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A reading event The Pictorial Third

Liliane Louvel


La relation texte/image, maintenant souvent considérée en termes d'intermédialité, est un objet plastique paradoxal, qui déclenche un « événement de lecture », provoque un phénomène de « double exposition » et crée une « double fiction ». Il donne lieu au « tiers pictural », image composite intermédiaire résultant de l'expérience phénoménologique de l'événement de lecture. La transaction intermédiale fonctionne sur le mode de l'oscillation, quand l'image joue son inscription avec/dans le texte et exige une transposition. Des livres récents tels que The Lazarus Project d'A. Hemon, ou les livres plus connus de W.G. Sebald incluent des photographies qui provoquent une suspension de l'activité de lecture et doivent être prises en compte en tant qu'images à « lire » tandis qu'inversement les textes sont « vus ». Cela crée une sorte de « syncope du visible » qui fait partie intégrante de l'événement de lecture et doit être reconnue par la critique intermédiale.

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A Complex Aporia

1Ever since Homer, literary texts have kept on referring to or including “images” (or visual elements) notwithstanding their irreducibility, their incommensuratio. Thus we are working on a paradoxical object, i.e. a virtually impossible one which nonetheless persists under different shapes: ekphraseis be they real or “notional”, the inclusion of images within books, the indestructible ut pictura poesis. I will argue that the word/image device triggers a “reading event”, that it provokes a phenomenon of “double exposure” and creates a “double fiction”. It eventually gives rise to the “pictorial third” as the phenomenological consequence of the reading event.

2What I propose is a figure of the writer as a changer, in the manner of Quentin Metsys’s changers in The Money Lender and his Wife who are weighing and exchanging the currencies lying on the table, without forgetting the small convex mirror which reflects the scene outside and converts the invisible into the visible. Currency itself is only the representation of an absent value (which has been the case, a fortiori, since the invention of banknotes). The intermedial transaction is an artistic negotiation which works on the oscillating mode, when image bargains its inscription with/in the text and resorts to transposition. Then, the changer-writer of the text screens the image, thanks to the riddle of language. This is what Marcel Broodthaers cunningly represented with his Diptych: Gedicht-Poem-Poème/Change-Exchange-Wechsel visually figuring what I am trying to express, the poetic ex-change between image and language, beyond the paragonal paradigm.

3In the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona, I was arrested by the two framed “pictures” presented as traditional easel-paintings but with a post-Duchampian twist to them.

Marcel Broodthaers, Gedicht-Poem-Poème, 1921. Kewenig Galerie

Marcel Broodthaers, Gedicht-Poem-Poème, 1921. Kewenig Galerie

4This work is a montage visually representing what takes place when words as signs become image and vice-versa, according to an ex-change operation, an operation of conversion, of transposition. Both painter and poet are presented as potential changers. Looking at the framed “pictures” one may notice symmetrical effects: in each frame are three columns, the titles of which point to an inversion on a chiasmus-like pattern according to the languages used : German, English, French and vice-versa. Thus “poème” folds onto “change”, etc., pointing to the visual rendering of the transposition. Furthermore, numbers are converted into letters for, spontaneously, the visitor lured by the sum-like appearance of the columns suggested by the inscriptions, the black underline, and the red ink as in an account-book, thinks s/he is looking at sums. But what s/he is looking at are as many letters, initials, those of the artist himself, M.B., his signature. And count as s/he may, s/he will realize that the numbers and the sums, which do not correspond from frame to frame, seem to signify that 258 M.B. in English correspond to 28+10+12 M.B. in German and to 6+25+45 M.B. in French, once the converting operation has been done. The symmetrical effect of the chiasmus operates a visual conversion from term to term. The chiasmus presents a mirror-image of the two panels on the mode of a diptych, thus quoting its pictorial heritage, that of Flemish and Italian painting. The device shows the passage from numbers to letters, corresponding to the conversion of the visual into language, of the symbol into image, the visual here not being rendered by a sign system but signified by visual obviousness. For what the spectator has to do first and foremost is to stop to read and consider the two panels pairing two simple black frames, and three columns of scribbles. But they linger on one’s mind for a long time.

5To study the effects of the inclusion of images (here photographs) within a literary text I shall take two examples.

Re-membering Lazarus

6Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project (2008) stages a journey back into collective and private memory thanks to a singular device or apparatus linking word and image. Remembering and reviving a new Lazarus after the character of the Gospel ressuscitated by Christ, gives the book its shape, swaddled in black paper shrouds as it were.

  • 1 In the Bible Lazarus also had two sisters, whereas the character in Hemon’s book has one, Olga.

7Text and photographs constitute the body of the book where the rather smudgy pictures are printed on black pages like those of an album. A large black frame thus surrounds them. Here the montage of the apparatus stresses the double nature of the book: word/image, double characters (Lazarus and Isador, the narrator, a writer, and his friend Rora, a photographer), double narration (he/I), two countries (Bosnia and the USA), double times (past and present), two Lazarus (L. Averbuch and his Gospel ancestor1). The narrative couples Brik’s—an emigrant from Bosnia—investigation and the story of one of his fellow countrymen, Lazarus Averbuch (aged 19) killed in 1908 during the great fear of anarchists in the USA. The alternation between 23 photographs (12 of which due to Velibor Bozovic and 11 others belonging to the Chicago Historical Society) constitutes a reading apparatus based on oscillation, on sudden interruption and fragmentation. Quickly leafed through, the book would be a kind of flip-book animating the pictures. The reading experience then is imbued with these visual elements, weighed down by the presence of the black pages and the hazy muddy quality of the pictures which contribute to a singular “pictorial turn”, leaving its lasting impression on the reader’s inner eye.

8These “pathos-images”, as Georges Didi-Huberman defines them in 2009, are powerful and their rhythmic appearance interrupts the fluidity and linearity of the reading process. One of them (p.52, and p.57 for its description) and its pendant (p.240) deeply move the reader and influence the following reading, neither text nor image but in-between, an instance of what I will define as “the pictorial third”. It is a macabre show, a monstrous “monstrance” of a dead person exhibited in front of the eyes of the living, which for us, contemporary spectators, is nothing short of a scandal. The photograph shows Lazarus Averbuch seated on a chair facing the viewer, his head firmly held by a policeman. With his closed eyes, he reminds us of wax masks, even of a dead Christ. In-between a hunting trophy and a funeral wax mask (the Roman imaginum pictura, i.e. the first printed-images) the photograph evokes the anthropometric pictures taken when photography was used as a scientific tool and manipulated for racist goals. The picture also has an apotropaic value similar to Medusa’s head as stuck up on the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s shield: both a punishment and a warning. The young man whose body was shot through by numerous bullets (as his tattered clothes show) was killed while trying to deliver a letter to the city’s chief of police. He was claimed to be an anarchist or even worse, a Jew. As a kind of ironical twist, Lazarus, a survivor of pogroms, had fled his country to find a rebirth in America.

9The image truly returns ghostlike, it hovers above the book and interposes itself in-between what I am reading and what I see in my mind’s eye. The superimposition of the two images, the mixture of the two times mounted together, heterogeneous and anachronic times (the time of the novel and its embedded narrative, and the time of my reading as seeing experience, lecture-voyure), and the “double exposure” it entails give rise to “the pictorial third”. A dialectic image, the image of a ghost-like survivor is revived 200 pages later by a second photograph of Lazarus and the policeman in profile. On the first picture (p.52), white pencilled inscriptions spell the captain’s and Lazarus’s names. Nothing of the sort in the second one (p.240) which truly is a ghostlike version of the first one. Furthermore, the text announced this return of the image earlier by describing and quoting the front page of The Tribune which Olga, Lazarus’s sister, is reading:

[there is] a photo of Lazarus in profile, his eyes closed, a dark shadow over his eyes and in the hollow of his cheeks. THE ANARCHIST TYPE, the heading says; numbers are strewn around his face. Below it, the numbers are explained:

1. low forehead;
2. large mouth;
3. receding chin;
4. prominent cheekbones;
5. large simian ears.

[…] “The anarchist vermin that infest Chicago and our nation are to be exterminated to the last vile individual. […] Undesirable foreigners will be deported.” (Hemon 143)

10Here showing equates proving, for photographs allegedly constitute a proof. The numbers endow the document with a pseudo-scientific seriousness. Its function is to impress and act as a deterrent.

11Last ironical twist, Lazarus is also the name of the poetess whose lines from “The New Colossus” welcome the immigrants in New York Harbour on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

12Intermediality enables us to account for phenomena such as anachronicity, visual double reading, and helps us identify the way they work and what their effects are. The function of this kind of hybrid text— or should we refer to it as an “intermedial book-apparatus”, the result of a “bricolage” in Lévi-Strauss’s manner? — which mingles all kinds of visual items, is to integrate indices and clues of a “ça a été”, i.e. elements of a world outside the book (see R. Barthes). Visually present under the reader’s eye, the photographic prints act upon his/her body and provoke a reaction. They impart the text with the particular iconorhythm of the hybrid text/image. It is the case with these pictures of a pseudo living-dead which engage the spectator in an impossible and unbearable dialogue. They “regard” us and haunt us for a long time.

The Sebaldian Device, a Case in Point

13The work of German writer W.G. Sebald displays the whole gamut of the modes of image-in-text insertion, and more particularly so of the photograph-in-text, including bills, mementos, diary extracts, museum tickets, which are nonetheless photographs of two-dimensional objects and which serve as images or illustrative devices. Image is part and parcel of Sebald’s own writing process, of his aesthetic choices. His truly is an iconotext.

14W.G. Sebald’s use of photographs presents a particular twist. The printed text precedes the image as a rule in his works, but the image corresponds to a former diegetic time. It chronologically precedes the text although it appears after its own deictic textual designation or its short ekphrasis. So it is the text which “illustrates” the photograph and not the other way round as one might expect. Anachrony gives one more twist to the phenomena of “double exposure” and “double perception”. This device provokes a feeling of aporia, a twinkling effect between the text which is chronologically posterior to the photograph and the photograph which is anterior to the text but textually posterior to its “announcement”. As a consequence, the reader starts doubting the reliability of the image as accompaniment to the text.

15Morphologically, Sebald’s text offers a case in point as it is compact, with few paragraphs, whole pages without any indented space, and no inverted commas to signal direct speech, as in The Rings of Saturn (Sebald 2002b: see for instance 40). Thus the text provides the photograph with a grey background in the manner of a woven fabric made up of solid blocks of letters. Illustrations vary according to text, period and semantic content. They range from documents (pictures of bills, tickets, maps, written pages), to pictures of paintings or engravings, or of photographs, depending on the periods evoked. For instance, the photographs of Stendhal’s own sketches appear in Vertigo (Sebald 2002a).

16In The Emigrants (Sebald 1996)the photographs are linked to personal memories and take on a technical aspect. One finds more or less acheiropoietic documents, yet the reader has access to photographs of photographs (and at times photographs of photographs of photographs, if one bears in mind the first book layout), thus pictures are (at least) at second-remove. Hence the Sebaldian device shows how reading is perforce anachronistic. For one reads a text which anticipates the photograph (as “truth”, testimony or referential anchorage). But at the same time, the photograph (of a document, of a photograph) inserted in the text stalls reading, but also testifies to a past time, a time before the text, before the writing of the text, and thus necessarily constituting its pre-text. The picture truly figures memory resurrected from the text. When the latter refers to an event, for instance the burning of the books by the Nazis in The Emigrants, or to a character like Uncle Ambros, their photograph appears, ghost-like, holding under its gaze the fascinated reader, who contemplates it, is held under its spell, under the magic of this open eye, of a face, of a landscape, of a village. This is what this device shows as it works on the mode of reflex writing. Through a camera, the view is reflected onto a focussing screen via a mirror angled at 45 degrees. There is no direct access to it, in a way similar to the functioning of memory which, itself having no direct hold on the event, alters it entirely. It also introduces a present, that of the image, of its contemplation during the visual-reading act. At times, it is artificially recreated, as in The Rings of Saturn (2002b: 106-107) when Sebald suddenly resorts to the present tense to describe an absent image, thus changing textual regime:

On the day of her departure, Evelina Korzeniowska stood on the steps of the manor house at Nowofastòw surrounded by her relations, the servants, and friends from the neighbouring domains. Everyone there assembled, apart from the children and those in livery, is attired in black cloth or black silk. Not a single word is spoken. Grandmother stoically stares out past the sad scene into the deserted countryside. (106)

17The Sebaldian apparatus wonderfully exemplifies what happens when the image opens up the eye of the text, when photography performs as critical idiom, understood as metareflexive device. Here, we witness the full activation of the opening (as wound, as symptom, aphanisis/epiphasis) which first provokes a blinding effect and then a vacillation. The reader is surprised by the image, by a process pertaining to an aesthetic of surprise — and even more so when (s)he is confronted with pictures spread on double-pages. The reader holds his/her breath and considers it. In Sebald’s novels, for this device runs all along his œuvre, the apparatus is truly exposed in a more violent way. For violent it is, as the elected photograph, burrowing a space for itself within the page, performs a kind of rape of the text.

18According to the different periods and the necessity of the narrative, the documents pile up and change in terms of formats, origins, nature. Their variety and the inventiveness of the monteur are unbelievable. For we can use the term montage here in front of this virtuoso apparatus, in the sense Georges Didi-Huberman uses it after Walter Benjamin. And the pictures take position in this dys-position of the images (see Didi-Huberman 2009). With The Emigrants, the four tales of the Jewish emigrants caught up in the horror of the 20th century are dys-posed and dys-mantled, then re-mounted together to be re-membered by the reader who eventually has a more complete vision of a vanished culture and people. He can better make up the chaotic story of the travails of dis-placed families.

A Reading event

  • 2 Derek Attridge, Table ronde sur La littérature et ses enjeux, ESSE-9 Conference, Aarhus, Denmark, A (...)
  • 3 I am alluding to G. Didi-Huberman’s concept of “dysposition” in Quand les images prennent position, (...)
  • 4 « une syncope visuelle », L. Louvel, Le Tiers pictural, 278.

19What are the effects of this hybrid text on reading and on the senses? The word/image reading causes an event, an advent. It is close to what Louis Marin also called a “reading event”, this event “in the very humble meaning of what arises from what happens in what one is reading, all of a sudden, almost unexpectedly” (Marin 15, my translation). There is a before and an after this shock. When the image “happens to” a text, it breaks it up, it “objects” in Jeanette Winterson’s meaning (Winterson 1996). How is the reader affected?— for indeed the body reacts to it. What happens? a reverie? a shudder? an emotion? An impression, to be sure, and the reader stimulated and alert becomes active: s/he operates superimpositions, collages, montages which make up a dialectic image. The word/image text implies a co-production, an activation of the book. “It is in the reading that the text becomes literature”, as Derek Attridge once put it2. For the text previously “contained” between its covers all of a sudden comes to life thanks to reading and the workings of an aesthetics of surprise which disrupts the reading process and provokes its re-dysposition3. The existing patterns are questioned causing doubt about the narrative because of the “syncopation of the visual”4. The sensitive echoes pull the individual towards the singular, towards the vibrations of what I called the iconorhythm, a mixture of word and image, of time/space i.e. speed. The movements of the seeing eye impart the text with the rhythm of the painting which combines with the reading event. The image then plays the role of a mediator, a means of reaching unheard-of or unspeakable truths, a link between memory and imagination. The body is touched, “seized” by the image as they meet, for we know too that some pictures produce strong affects, liberate the forces they captured.

20This is when we literary persons are confronted with another domain, that of cognitive sciences at the crossroads with neurology and psychoanalysis, concerning the question of mental images and emotions (see the discussion of Antonio Damasio’s work in Tisseron). This might be our next step, at least an open horizon for researchers.

Seeing the word/image text as “double exposure”

21The effect of the word /image text is to submit the reader to a phenomenon of “double exposure”, a term borrowed from photography, to describe this voyure effect that is a combination of reading and seeing, reading as seeing. I propose to adapt to the word/image text what Richard Wollheim wrote a propos “seeing in” and “twofold attention”:

[…] twofold attention is a way of exploiting the dissociation.

I have, however, spoken of “relative dissociation”, and advisedly. For the artist who (as we have seen) exploits twofoldness to build up analogies and correspondences between the medium and the object of representation cannot be thought content to leave the two visual experiences in such a way that one merely floats above the other. He must be concerned to return experience to the other. Indeed he constantly seeks an ever more intimate rapport between the two experiences, but how this is to be described is a challenge to phenomenological acuity which I cannot think how to meet.  (Wollheim 224)

22The image floating above the text or in-between the medium and its background, the urge to relate the two experiments and study their interactions, the recognition of the difficulty represented by the phenomenological challenge, echo my own observations about the dynamic manifestation which oscillates between a visual reading and a textual image.

23The illusion we are subjected to when we are confronted with texts which (one way or another) represent paintings, frescoes, photographs, miniatures, tapestries, maps, holds us under the spell of two images or two paintings.

However, I now think that the representational seeing should be understood as involving, and therefore best elucidated through, not seeing-as, but another phenomenon closely related to it, which I call “seeing-in”. Where previously I would have said that representational seeing is a matter of seeing x (= the medium or representation) as y (= the object, or what is represented), I now would say that it is, for the same values of the variables, a matter of seeing y in x. (Wollheim 209)

24The vision conveyed by the text wavers between seeing-in and seeing-as. We see Vita Sackville West as Orlando, and in Orlando we see Vita Sackville West. Clément Rosset perfectly explores this discrepancy when he describes the way a theatre character prefers to ignore what he actually sees: his wife's lover hidden in a wardrobe (Rosset, 10 and 12).

25Experiencing double vision or double exposure, be it an experience in terms of time or in terms of (visual) space, contributes to a kind of palimpsest effect when two texts or when a text and an image are superimposed. Jean Rousset once remarked on the difficulty particular to description or ekphrasis:

  • 5 « J’indiquerai, sans insister davantage, un dernier point, sans doute difficilement théorisable : q (...)

I will point out, without further ado, a last fact which is certainly difficult to theorize: what happens in the mind of the reader confronted with a description? If he transposes the written words into absent things he transforms them into a mental simulacrum, in other words he visualizes them ; so doing, they replace the text which is reduced to the role of a background, eventually erased, and then destroyed. (Rousset 163, my translation5).

26“What happens then in the mind of the reader confronted with a description?”— and, I will add, with the description of an image? While art historians and phenomenologists have proposed the notion of “double perception”, the “double exposure” phrase has been coined by literary theorists, such as Carlos Baker and Tamar Yacobi (to take only two examples), although they do not understand the term in the same way.

27For Carlos Baker “double exposure” is closer to the experience of superimposing a memory onto a particular object or landscape: a case in point is his study of “Tintern Abbey” which, according to him, fused perception and imagination, culminating in a revelation:

Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild (l.14-15)

28For Rhoda Flaxman, who comments on Carlos Baker’s reading of the passage:

This line implies two different views of the same scene, one a mental construct held fondly over time, the other, its present features […] This reading of our passage underscores the way in which Wordsworth’s word-painting states in small the message of “Tintern Abbey”: that the poet discovers what to make of nature in a process fusing perception and imagination. […] With it, one embarks upon a study of nineteenth century writers who relate narration to description more organically than had been the case in word-painters of the previous century. (Flaxman 68-69)

  • 6 Poem included in the Tate Gallery anthology : With a Poet’s Eye, ed. Pat Adams, London, Tate Galler (...)
  • 7 The first wife hated Bacon’s work which her husband had bought without consulting her. The new wife (...)

29As to Tamar Yacobi, she explains that “By ‘double exposure’ [she] refer[s] to texts which simultaneously evoke — montage fashion — a number of discrete visual sources” (Yacobi 219). For her, it is a “joint evocation”, that is when two works of art are “mounted” together in a kind of ekphrastic palimpsest when one ekphrasis hides (or refers to) another one. This is the case of “Teeth” by Blake Morrison6 which uses a painting by Francis Bacon which actually is coupled montage fashion with Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”. The interplay between the four artistic objects (two poems and two paintings) reveals what “Teeth” tried to hide: the probable murder of a wife by her husband because of irreconcilable artistic tastes7.

30These examples show that the reading of the word/image text constitutes a phenomenon which rests on a double structure, as in a double image when two images coexist and provoke a visual oscillation and indeterminacy. Their forces captured in the work are made perceptible. The notion of the double also structures Hemon’s text. What happens then?

The Pictorial Third: Effects, Affects, A Dynamic Experience, A Rhythm

31When photography is physically present, it causes specific effects on the “viewer/reader”, the latter terms constituting a category of response whose symmetrical counterpart would be the “reader/viewer”, i.e. when the image is only mediated through words. This led to my conception of the “pictorial third” to designate the in-between image conjured by a “pictorial reading”, i.e. a reading in which word and image combine and intermediality fully plays its role. This image in-between word and image is floating in the reader’s mind in the same way as Descartes’s “images in the air”.

32The pictorial third is a phenomenological event, a visual movement produced in the viewer/reader’s mind by the passage between the two media. It is a virtual image engineered by the text, an image re-invented by the reader; it will never exactly coincide with the narrator’s. The “pictorial third” might be this “third” required to analyse a certain kind of texts with a strong pictorial ratio. I derive the notion from Michel Serres’ “tiers instruit” and Jacques Derrida’s “third book”, which he evokes when writing about Edmond Jabès, referring to the book which remains hovering somewhere in-between the volume resting in the reader’s hands and the one the author conceived. This third book is a supplement, an “invention”.

33In-between word and image, in the mind’s eye or on its interior screen, the “pictorial third” is more present when the image figures in the text and when it is a photograph, for it is thought to be closer to extra-textual reality. W. G. Sebald used it as a system, producing a destabilizing reading effect, interrupting the text, giving it more vividness but also reducing the free play of imagination. This triggers a recognition effect when the viewer/reader identifies the photograph as that corresponding to the ekphrastic passage, and/or a moment of doubt as to the ontological status of the photograph: the viewer/reader wonders where it comes from, from which archive, and if it is really the one described in the text. This triggers more fiction, what I call “double fiction”, a kind of fiction parallel to a text, adding a critical fictional turn to the text.

34“Double fiction” first is of a metatextual nature (and an intermedial one at that); it belongs to a genre different from that of the actual fiction in hand. Second, it creates another visual text, spanning the written text. In its flashes it links its apparitions together into a visual web cast upon the written text. These flashes are intertwined in a complex way, a web, thus turning the reader into a viewer who has to be cognizant with photographic criteria and the specific requirements of the medium to be able to take into account the whole iconotext. Compelled to become a “visual reader”, the person combines viewing and reading, and turns into an amateur of photography as well as of fiction. This “visual reading experience” gives the text a hybrid aspect. Sebald’s text oscillates between travel writing, autobiography, fiction, short story and historical document. In-between those genres the generic status of the text is akin to illustrated fiction, it is an iconotext. Let us advance then that the inclusion of an image within a text changes its generic status, and that the concept of intermediality is necessary to analyze this particular type of fiction.

35The study of the relations between text and image is of great import, for they display the way language and image work and approach our apprehension of the world in a more acute way than when literature and painting work separately. Their “commerce” is necessary, and Lessing’s fetish Laocoön is a good instance of an allegorical sculpture presenting the inextricability of the interartistic relationships visible in the multiple knots of the snake coiled around Laocoön’s body. However, this classic vision is, to my eyes, far too warlike. My own conception is less aggressive, less hierarchical too, for I do not see this relation in terms of a vertical structure, but as working on the mode of the rhizome and refusing the gendered separation between feminine image and male text. No mortal fight for me there, but a fruitful collaboration realized in the “pictorial third” thanks to transposition when text and image are interrelated. Synesthesia, this in-between movement reflecting the desire of one for the other, of red for blue, of sound for sight, might be an answer.

36The “pictorial third” is the in-between moment when the text reaches out to the image and when the image moves towards the text, when in the reader’s mind and flesh something of the iconotext quivers. In-between text and image “something” arises from the lines still veiled and hazy: “where have I already seen this?”, it is also rhythm when the “pictorial third” conjures up a visual syncopation, or a counterpoint to the movement of a fugue-like text.

37Now has come the time to go beyond intermedial transposition. This series of thoughts concerning its modalities may help us reconsider the relationships between text and image in their differences and their ressemblances. The passage between the two media implies an in-between position, the reader being neither wholly in front of one nor in front of the other. The instability of the iconotext, its oscillation inherent in the process, hypnotize both writer and reader. Therefore they are constantly straddling both worlds in transposition, trans-action, negotiation. Reading and writing become dynamic actions caused by the impulse given by the image to the text via speech, which enables the image “to arise” as Daniel Arasse put it (Arasse 22). For this process is an operation which the term transaction renders well, a converting operation, an exchange, “the change of the relation” that Marcel Broodthaers so visually represented.

  • 8 « si ‘vision’ il y a, [le spectateur] n'en est ni le détenteur, ni la source mais la chambre noire, (...)

38The “pictorial third” is a relation (we remember M. Foucault’s discussion in The Order of Things), it is a dynamic activity, that of a picturing reading, of a read picture. The pictorial impetus triggers the pictorial third which finds its locus in the iconotext when it arises in the reader’s mind on his inner screen, on his camera obscura. A process already acknowledged by Catherine Perret, once more a propos La Meninas: “if there is a ‘vision’ [the spectator] is neither the owner of it nor its source but its dark chamber, its secret panopticon, its projecting screen. The mirror turns the spectator into the empty place where the painting appears, becomes an image” (Perret 61, my translation8). Bernard Noël too evokes this dark chamber, one of his leitmotifs:

  • 9 « L’invisible est derrière nos yeux, c’est l’épaisseur du corps. Nous sommes ainsi des machines obs (...)

The invisible is behind our eyes: it is the thickness of our bodies. Thus we are dark machines: the dark as it were of a dark chamber. In spite of our talking of the body, the body in this instance is but a possibility: one has to look behind one’s gaze to achieve the reversal effect that, perhaps, will make it happen. (Noël 19, my translation9)

39The “pictorial third” then might be this vision hovering at the back of our eyes where the little veiling/unveiling number is enacted. The pictorial allusion shows and masks its object, like a discursive veil, it provokes excitement and desire.

  • 10 See also G. Didi-Huberman, Phasmes, Paris, Minuit, 212, note 18.

40When image happens in a text it interrupts it, it “objects” and provokes a split, a wavering, a haziness like that of the nacreous skull of an anamorphosis. It interplays with the text more than it fights it as in the paragone. It cannot be ignored because of its heterogeneity. It may cause a shock or at least interpose a visual filter in-between the text and the reader’s mind’s eye. As a work of art it impresses the subject, it subverts the text, brings it a tremor. It animates and plays with it. This is what the violent/violating picture of Lazarus showed, and in French “voir” comes from “vis” meaning strength, violence10.

41Intermedial criticism can account for these movements, for these affects caused by the complex network of the word/image text, by forging new concepts. A whole field of research opens up in front of us.

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Arasse, Daniel. Histoires de peinture. Paris: France culture/Denoël 2004.

Barthes, Roland. La Chambre claire. Note sur la photographie. Paris : Cahiers du cinéma/ Gallimard Seuil, 1980.

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1 In the Bible Lazarus also had two sisters, whereas the character in Hemon’s book has one, Olga.

2 Derek Attridge, Table ronde sur La littérature et ses enjeux, ESSE-9 Conference, Aarhus, Denmark, August 2008.

3 I am alluding to G. Didi-Huberman’s concept of “dysposition” in Quand les images prennent position, Paris, Minuit, 2009.

4 « une syncope visuelle », L. Louvel, Le Tiers pictural, 278.

5 « J’indiquerai, sans insister davantage, un dernier point, sans doute difficilement théorisable : que se passe-t-il dans la tête de celui qui lit une description ? S’il transpose les mots écrits en choses (absentes), il les transforme en un simulacre mental, autrement dit : il visualise ; ce faisant, il substitue ce simulacre au texte, réduit au rôle de support, ce qui revient à l’effacer, et finalement à le détruire. »

6 Poem included in the Tate Gallery anthology : With a Poet’s Eye, ed. Pat Adams, London, Tate Gallery, 1985.

7 The first wife hated Bacon’s work which her husband had bought without consulting her. The new wife gives it pride of place.

8 « si ‘vision’ il y a, [le spectateur] n'en est ni le détenteur, ni la source mais la chambre noire, le panoptique secret, l'écran de projection. Le miroir fait du spectateur ce lieu vide où le tableau apparaît, fait image." (Catherine Perret, Les Porteurs d'ombre. Mimèsis et modernité)

9 « L’invisible est derrière nos yeux, c’est l’épaisseur du corps. Nous sommes ainsi des machines obscures : le noir en quelque sorte d’une chambre noire. On a beau parler du corps, le corps dans ces conditions n’est qu’une éventualité : il faut regarder derrière le regard pour opérer le retournement qui, peut-être, le fera advenir. »

10 See also G. Didi-Huberman, Phasmes, Paris, Minuit, 212, note 18.

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Liliane Louvel, « A reading event The Pictorial Third »Sillages critiques [En ligne], 21 | 2016, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2016, consulté le 01 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Liliane Louvel

Liliane Louvel est professeur émérite de littérature britannique à l’Université de Poitiers. Son champ de recherche est la littérature britannique contemporaine et les rapports texte/image. Elle a publié cinq ouvrages sur les rapports entre texte et image : L'Œil du texte (Toulouse, PU du Mirail 1998), The Picture of Dorian Gray, Le double miroir de l'art (Paris, Ellipses, 2000), Texte/image, images à lire et textes à voir (Rennes, PUR, 2002), Le Tiers pictural. Pour une critique intermédiale (PUR 2010), Poetics of the Iconotext (Trans. Laurence Petit, ed. Karen Jacobs, Ashgate, juillet 2011). Elle a également dirigé plusieurs dossiers sur le même sujet dans les revues Word/image et EJES, et des recueils d’essais tels que Like Painting (La Licorne, 1999), Actes du colloque de Cerisy Texte/image: nouveaux problèmes (avec Henri Scepi, PUR, 2005), Intermedial Arts, Disrupting, Remembering and Transforming Media (avec Leena Eilitta et Sabine Kim, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2012), Musing in the Museum, (avec Laurence Petit et Karen Brown, Word /Image, Taylor and Francis May 2015). Elle est actuellement présidente de ESSE, The European Society for the Study of English.
Liliane Louvel is Emeritus Professor of British literature at the University of Poitiers and specializes in contemporary British literature and word/image relationship. She has written numerous articles and five books on the subject: L'Œil du texte (Toulouse, PU du Mirail, 1998), The Picture of Dorian Gray, Le double miroir de l'art (Paris, Ellipses, 2000), Texte/image, images à lire et textes à voir (Rennes, PUR 2002), Le Tiers pictural (PUR 2010), Poetics of the Iconotext (Trans. Laurence Petit, ed. Karen Jacobs, Ashgate, 2011). Le Tiers pictural is in the process of being translated into English by A. Tseti under the title : The Pictorial Third. She has also edited several journal issues on the relation between word and image in Word/Image and EJES, and collections of essays such as Like Painting (La Licorne, 1999), The Proceedings of the Cerisy Conference: Texte/image: nouveaux problèmes (with Henri Scepi, PUR, 2005), Intermedial Arts, Disrupting, Remembering and Transforming Media (with Leena Eilitta and Sabine Kim, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2012), Musing in the Museum, (with Laurence Petit and Karen Brown, Word /Image, Taylor and Francis, May 2015). She is the current president of ESSE, the European Society for the Study of English numbering 7500 members.

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