Barbara Stafford: Visual Analogy

[Readings] (08.29.08, 4:12 pm)


Stafford explores the concept of analogy as a kind of foundation for cognition. Analogy here is the notion of connecting, or finding similarity, which is opposed to the process of finding difference. Stafford specifically is exploring visual analogy, and using visual analysis and language in her investigation, but the concepts of analogy and its visual method can be extended to a general approach to connecting and cognition. Platonism, gnosticism, and other forms of classical philosophy bear heavily into her discussion, and she draws out classical and modern philosophy to approach consciousness and media, both new and old.


Plato’s take on analogy: Desire for union with unpossessed. Theological, philosophical, rhetorical aesthetic middle term: delayed not-yet, allusive not-quite. Analogy relates to mathematical ratio. Visual arts are uniquely suited to analogy. Compare with 19th century disanalogy or allegory. Balance between opposed duals, etc. (p. 3) About knowledge: a heuristic system in pursuit of equivalences, exposing ties, concretizing abstractions. “By raising a periscope, so to speak, over the social, biological, technological, and disciplinary landscape, I shall argue that we need both to retrieve and to construct a more nuanced picture of resemblance and connectedness.” (p. 8-9) On Hegel and Marx: Forming a new theory of subsumption of dichotomous concepts: Allegory. This loses something, instead of drawing connections between two things, this approach lumps them together into ungainly whole. (p. 9)

Contemporary reasoning focuses on difference and unlikeness. (p. 14) Analogy in science: social analogy of forces (consider Freud’s drives as Newtonian forces, social systems as particles in fields, etc). This seems to occur across sciences. (p. 19) Types of similarity in law: Analogizing morality across society. Law poses that mathematical formulae are isomorphic to behavior, generalizes throughout society. This has a tendency to dehumanize, as it likens people to bits in equations. (p. 31)

Stafford cites D’Arcy Thompson! principle of similarities as functional. This sounds like computer code: Things have similarity across morphology and functional characteristics. (p. 46) How to coordinate a mosaic out of the dissociated elements in the digital age? Fragmentary nature of data tends to replication and solipsism. Computers, search engines do not know how to reconstruct mosaic from fragments, or perceive resemblances. (p. 53)

Analogy vs Allegory: Dichotomous structures, binary, obverse/reverse of same coin. Compare: Analytic allegory vs synthetic allegory. (p. 77) Trancendental culmination here: Contemplated object passes from reach of will or representation. Consider and compare aesthetic sublime. (p. 95)

Analogy as viewed by Aristotle: Translation (!) [as compared with mysticism previously]. Mimesis is at odds with hermeneutics. Metaphor translates words from one order of reality to another. “Aristotelian mimesis, or the activity of visibly converting and reconverting words in order to see phenomena in a new or better light, is fundamentally at odds with a negative, decoding hermeneutics.” (p. 116) On Leibniz: mathematics and world view, and Gestalt psychology. “Libniz is also not far afield from the schema theory of Gestalt psychology, attempting to relate universals to particulars in accessible ways.” (p. 127)

Discussing AI: We lack a deep understanding of the nonverbal “inner-life” of the self: AI and neurobiology should look at visual connection/analogy. (p. 139) Perspectival knowing: Charles Saunders Pierce and Leibniz: reality is the end result of imaginative creating of categories that we stretch out to grasp. (p. 146) Discussion of cognition and analogy (similarity and connectedness) to how the brain works. Cartesian legacy leads to the natural conclusion that mind is a general computer learning program. (p. 158) Embodied analogy is an argument against AI (Strong AI?). We concentrate the universe in ourselves and radiate it outward. “In sum: It seems that the crux of the problem of consiousness lies in the flagrant contrast or clash between organ and awareness. How does one satisfactorily reconcile the paradox of a disembodied brain as a scientific conglomerate of dissected processes with the gut feelings, flickers of emotion, moral struggles, and secret attractions we intuitively feel? I have been arguing that the soution to this dilemma requires the full participation of humanistic imaging in that supposedly ‘interdisciplinary discipline’, cognitive science.” (p. 179)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorStafford, Barbara
TitleVisual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting
Tagsmedia theory, visual culture, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

1 Comment »

  1. […] of our distinguished speaker series. I read her book Visual Analogy last year, although whether I understood it or not is a different matter entirely. Stafford’s background is in art history, although […]

    Pingback by Icosilune » Barbara Stafford comes to LCC! — October 26, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

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