Discourse Analysis I

Reading about and then later discussing "discourse analysis" hasn't really helped me. I've no real idea why we were asked to read Rose rather than just delving directly into Foucault, which to be honest I think I would have preferred (I've done a little of this already). Well, strictly speaking, there's the "research" element, but I found the meaning I took from the reading was more about the context within which Foucault was writing - intertextuality and iconography for 'I', and power and the institution in 'II'. I'm not going to dwell on my uncertainties, instead I'll discuss the main themes I took from the reading, whether they relate to the idea of research or not.

Iconography is important, no, it's absolutely central, to how we read images from a structural semiotic standpoint, whether these be photographs, paintings or even sculpture and such. Obviously, figurative representations are more easy to read as we can see the iconography and it will have either historical or contemporary relevance. Rose gives a number of examples, the first being Jan van Eyck's 
The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434, in which specific meanings are handed to the presence of the dog (marital fidelity), a statue of St Margaret (childbirth) and the holding of hands (catholic marriage). Not knowing these signs and what they signify means that I missed much of the implied meaning - the painting is approaching being empty from an historical point of view. Coming from the moment, reading the caption it's a "wedding portrait", but the woman looks to me to be pregnant (resting a hand on the top of her belly is a sign I read...), so is this a last minute thing to cover up an "indiscretion" and avoid the child being born out of wedlock? Where are the Christian virtues in this case (the candle representing the light of Christ, the fruit of the "purity of humankind before the Fall" - p203)? A different view coming from a different set of meanings for the icons presented

Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, 1434
(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnolfini_Portrait#mediaviewer/File:Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait.jpg, accessed 21/2/15)

Another example comes with the series of images of prostitutes in the East End of London, part of the residuum Rose keeps on referring to throughout the section on Discourse Analysis I. The fact they are prostitutes is not immediately apparent to me - the first image is from The Bridge of Sighs, 1878 (Gustave Dore) and shows a woman being pulled from a river by three men, another has a body of a woman being looked at by two policemen (W Gray's Found, c1870), or a woman standing on a river's edge (Hablot K Browne's The River) or simply alone and dead on the bank (George Frederick Watts' Found Drowned, 1848-50). Only one image shows a woman that is more easily identified as a prostitute to me (perhaps I'm naive), that's Lost which is presumably the precursor to Gray's Found, and shows a woman in heeled boots and showing her petticoat outside a licenced premises whilst being observed by policemen in the shadows... At least, it's an easier but still bold assumption to make - if we were to look for provocative actions such as showing one's underskirt as being a sign of prostitution in a contemporary town or city on a Friday evening, then pretty much all women could be deemed prostitutes! (Dougie Wallace and Mariej Dakowicz are worth looking at here). The series of images apparently drives home the fact that prostitutes from the "residuum" all ended up dead in the Thames after having committed suicide. Having been told this, how is it then possible to "read them and look at the with fresh eyes" (p210)? An interpretation has been presented to me and it's logical, so why expend energy and effort coming up with something different? OK, there was a "ripper" prowling the East End in those times, preying on women. Were these his victims? Oh, but they were prostitutes too, so were all women in the region prostitutes...? Obviously not (as is the contemporary case presented by Wallace and Dakowicz, just before anyone thinks that I think that way), and I guess that's where some of the research comes in. And also the ability to detach oneself for the contemporary and apply the natural, conventional and symbolic codes of the time and the region to what is being looked at.

The other thing this mini-set of images brings to the fore is the intertextuality element. Ignore the iconography for a moment (if that's actually possible), but by displaying 5 images in which one is perhaps more clearly a prostitute, then the series is about prostitutes. And the fact that in three the women are dead at the side of the river, under a bridge then it's fair to assume that the woman standing at the riverside, watched by two men in the background, is about to stride out into the waters to her death as she is ashamed of her actions... Together, a narrative forms that might not be the same if viewed in isolation, or at least without viewing the others with them - as Foucault discusses, we bring the weight of all the other images we have seen to bear when we look at the current one. And what would be the assumption if there was an image of a "royal carriage" included instead of one of the others? Adding more and more images can muddy the waters if not controlled, and it has to be acknowledged that when performing a Foucauldian analysis that his other works include 
What is an author?, something I need to return to before long. Therein lies the theory I have in a way been demonstrating, that it is not the author (or painter, or maker) that decides what things mean, but the reader (or viewer). True, a point of view can be presented and strengthened by the way that it hangs together, but cover too much ground and it all becomes too much and what might once have been more concise suddenly grows a "sore thumb" that piques at the reader and sends them off on their own tangent. Horses, water and drink.
Rose, G (2012) 
Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd.

blog comments powered by Disqus