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1The content of this inaugural number of La Revue LISA/LISA e-journal falls into two parts. The first, larger, section, entitled IMAGES OF DERISION, IMAGES OF EXALTATION, The British Isles from the 18th to the 20th Century, National Issues, International Perspectives, originated in the colloquium organised by Renée Dickason and Gilbert Millat at the University of Lille III in October 2002. This selection of articles is followed by essays, under the heading of VARIA, which have New York as a common point.

2Although the terms derision and exaltation are near antonyms, the one suggesting denigration through ridicule or mockery and the other signifying praise or elevation, the relationships between the concepts are at once socially / culturally and historically determined and complex.

3Moreover, they exploit the opportunities offered by different media, the methods being as varied as the objectives, and, as exaltation and derision are two of the most fundamental emotional reactions, they are intrinsically popular if not universal in their scope, the more so when associated with visual representation, misrepresentation or caricature.

4Without making any claim for exhaustiveness, the collection of articles included here attempts to give a diversified and at times original insight into the complicated connections between derision and exaltation.

5The articles deal with the use of fixed images of different types and periods: engravings, caricature and their modern successors, newspaper and magazine cartoons, photography and painting. The British Isles are the central focus or the starting point for these reflections, which cover such varied fields as domestic and international politics, social progress, the shifting perspectives of “otherness”, idealisation, self-presentation and artistic rivalry. The use of personality or personalities is a significant feature of the techniques of exaltation, as of derision, but what is of particular interest to the historian as well as attracting the attention and provoking the reactions of the general reader / observer / consumer is the choice of characters, the manner in which they are presented and the extent to which they are individually identifiable or recognisable, merely anonymously collective or racially or socially generic. Foreign figures seem to fall almost inevitably into the latter categories.

6Similarly, the field of the emblematic and symbolic is a rich source of expression of admiration or of scorn and this domain is explored in ways which are, on the one hand, international and universal, on the other, national or even local, as well as being, in both cases, historically and culturally determined. To use a recognised or familiar representation implies an awareness on the part of artist as well as observer of at least some of the cultural background associated with the image in question. The couple of John Bull and Britannia for instance, a conveniently male / female combination, is a case in point. Not all British readers will see John Bull as a yeoman figure, not all will understand the implicit comparison with his putative female counterpart Joan Bull, but all will see him as a symbol of the Englishman. Britannia is equally identifiable, the defender of the British nation and ruler of the waves. Foreign emblems, such as the French Marianne, being less familiar, are, for a British readership, often little more than convenient shorthand for the country in question or a vehicle for the most obvious and reductive of stereotypes. British emblems, on the other hand, offer opportunities for amendment and variation, according to the message to be conveyed and its context, and may suggest exaltation, derision or even both. The representations of Margaret Thatcher as Britannia or Boudicca, for instance, had all the positive connotations of the independence and defence of the country and its principles at a time of the threat of foreign (diplomatic, economic and “euro-bureaucratic”) invasion, while appearing comically disproportionate if not actually laughably anachronistic. Animal imagery is another rich source of symbolism beloved of cartoonists and illustrators. The British lion, the American eagle or the French cock are, from an internal point of view, frequently positive self-representations and emblems of justifiable national pride, although the creatures’ apparent degree of health, vitality and well-being can be adapted to fit the self-aggrandisement or self-denigration required at a given moment. To the outsider, the weaknesses and potential for ridicule associated with these national symbols is even more obvious, while the mockery of foreigners, often through the dehumanising technique of animalisation, is a standard ploy of the caricaturist and cartoonist. Similar derisive methods have frequently been used by the egocentric English towards the other inhabitants of the British Isles.

7If the early 21st century has its political correctness, each age has known its own fashions, conventions and taboos. T. S. Eliot’s eclectic list of characteristically English activities, made as recently as 1948, is notable for the exaltation of the ordinary as well as for the celebration of the more obviously prestigious, patriotic and traditional (“Henley Regatta, Cowes, the 12th of August, a cup final, dog races, boiled cabbage cut in sections, [] nineteenth century Gothic and the music of Elgar”). Above all, it now stands as a quaintly archaic monument to a certain conception of the subject and such outdated visions have always attracted their share of derision. For the historian, iconographic images can be perceived as a barometer of opinions, be they majority, minority, rational or prejudiced, a major source of interest being the evolution of such phenomena. The notions of recycling of ideas and of intertextuality, what one might call in this context “intericonography” or “intericonicity”, are inherent to all popular media as to popular memory, the visual content of documents offering a universal accessibility which the written and the spoken word do not always convey. If there are striking, sometimes atavistic, recurrences in the domains of exaltation and derision, there are also remarkable evolutions and occasionally surprising subtleties. It is not just that we admire today what we mocked before, or that “merry prejudice” may rapidly become a prelude to “merciless derision”, but that mockery is a two-edged sword, which may not only strike its intended targets, but may equally turn itself against those who wish to use it. As with all media which try to establish a relationship of confidence with the consumer, the choice and use of the message is a question of communication. While the intention of the artist is most usually unequivocal, though it is sometimes open to question whether the viewpoint is his/her own or that of his/her political or editorial paymaster, the willing complicity or connivance of the receiver cannot always be relied upon and different interpretations, at the same or at different periods, may once more blur the distinction between exaltation and derision. The complex and paradoxical nature of Britain’s relations with the rest of the world and with its own past and present make it a rich source of contradictory visions.

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Renée Dickason, « Introduction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. I - n°1 | 2003, 1-3.

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Renée Dickason, « Introduction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. I - n°1 | 2003, mis en ligne le 19 novembre 2009, consulté le 23 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Renée Dickason

Renée Dickason is Professor in the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Caen, France. She is the author of several works in the field of cultural studies on the notions of fiction and history, media and propaganda in English-speaking countries, notably in the British Isles. She has recently written Radio et télévision britanniques (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1999), British Television Advertising—Cultural Identity and Communication (University of Luton Press, 2000), Vers la paix en Irlande du Nord : communication politique et publicité télévisuelle 1988-1997 (Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2000) and edited Analyses d’images. Patrimoines visuels dans le monde anglophone (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2003).

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