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Adventures in subsemiotics: towards a new 'object' and writing of visual culture

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This article focuses on a debate between Mieke Bal and James Elkins regarding the nature and scope of visual semiotics. Their research, which is concerned with the conceptualisation of the smallest 'subsemiotic' marks of pictures, is examined here in terms of the broader issues of visual theory and critique. The exchange between them is used to illuminate a number of key concerns about the nature of visual semiotics and the critical practice it inaugurates for visual culture research. The developments in recent visual culture discourse are presented first with the suggestion that a re-evaluation of the very 'object' of visual culture is required, which would bring the differing positions of Bal and Elkins to accord. The contesting positions of Bal and Elkins represent the vacillating need in visual culture for a critical discursive framework and a specifically visual orientation. By drawing much insight from the writings of Roland Barthes, the overall argument is that in order to (ad)venture forth in (sub)semiotics it is crucial to (re)consider past semiotic theory and the very 'object' of visual culture in and as writing itself.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2003

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