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Jason Gaiger – Can There be a Universal Theory of Images

The Humanities and Arts Research Centre at Royal Holloway University of London

Philosophy and Humanities

28 October 2009

Jason Gaiger (OU)  – Can there be a universal theory of images?

One of the leading proponents of the new discipline of Bildwissenschaft, Lambert Wiesing, has identified the ‘philosophical interest in the concept of an image’ with the ‘tendency towards a universal theory of images’, arguing that this requires not merely a quantitative extension of the type of empirical research carried out in art history and other related disciplines but a ‘change of method’, a ‘shift towards the categorial’ (Artifizielle Präsenz, Suhrkamp, 2005). This paper investigates the problematic distinction between empirical and categorial enquiry by examining Wiesing’s attempt to develop a ‘logic of the image’ through a formal-logical reconstruction of Heinrich Wölfflin’s fundamental concepts of art history. I show that the reconstruction of the concepts as strictly relational categories solves a number of problems inherent in stylistic analysis, but that it does so at the price of no longer being able to account for historical change. The paper concludes by drawing a connection between Peirce’s criticism of the notion of total or ‘universal doubt’ and Wiesing’s conception of a complete freedom of visual-configurational relations. This allows me to raise important reservations about the viability of the ‘shift towards the categorial’ and the distinctions that underpin it.

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