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Visuell ikonicitet i lyrik: En intermedial och semiotisk undersökning med speciellt fokus på svenskspråkig lyrik från sent 1900-tal
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Language and Literature.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8664-1970
2011 (Swedish)Book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Visual Iconicity in Poetry: An Intermedial and Semiotic Investigation with a Particular Focus on Late 20th Century Swedish Poetry consists of two parts. The first section presents a newly developed theoretical framework, based on articles previously published in English. The second section consists of an analysis of various poems.

                      In Part I, “Visual Iconicity in a Theoretical Context”, I will first present the history of and research regarding what has been called “visual poetry”. Visual poetry has been understood to be a type of poetry deviating from normal poetry by way of its visual characteristics. Visual poetry has thus been seen as related to, or including, poetic phenomena such as carmina figurata and concrete poetry. However, there is a terminological and theoretical problem with the designation visual poetry and the ways in which it has previously been used. All written or printed poetry is obviously visual, and the notion of visuality has proven to be insufficient to explain the characteristics of visual poetry and allegedly “non-visual” poetry. I will argue that previous research, with the exception of a few rough attempts, has focused on the wrong trait. It is not visuality but iconicity that must be investigated if one wishes to understand the characteristics of so-called visual poetry. While all written or printed poetry is visual to the same extent, the level of iconicity varies between poems.

                      Visuality is a sensorial category, but iconicity is a semiotic category of meaning created by way of resemblance. In cases in which these two different areas are mixed up, the result is very confusing. I have thus developed a theoretical framework called “the modalities of media”. I will argue that all media must be understood as being based on four modalities: the material modality, the sensorial modality, the spatiotemporal modality, and the semiotic modality. However, media differ when it comes to the modes of the four modalities; some media are visual, others are auditory, some are spatial but static, others are spatiotemporal, some are primarily based on conventional signs, others are based on iconic signs, and so forth. I will also distinguish between three complementary aspects of media (not media types). “Visual text”, “iconic sound” and so on are basic media that can be defined solely in terms of their modal characteristics, whereas “literature”, “music”, “motion pictures” and so forth are qualified media. Qualified media are single basic media or combinations of basic media that are qualified by the social, historical, aesthetic and communicative contexts that determine their limits and content. Both basic and qualified media require technical media in order to be realized – a book, a body, a screen or something else.

                      I also propose that there are two kinds of intermedial relations: on the one hand, there are combinations and integrations of various media, and on the other hand, there are mediations and transformations of media. Basic and qualified media are always mediated by technical media, and when a medium is “remediated” it is also transformed, as technical media differ when it comes to their capacity to mediate the modes of the modalities. In this investigation, however, the focus is on the aspect of combination and integration.

All media are more or less multimodal, and their characteristics are very much determined by how the modes of the modalities are merged. When what we take to be two separate media expressions are combined – for instance, a printed poem and a still image – the new media expression becomes integrated in the respect that the poem and the image share many modality modes: they both consist of flat surfaces, they are visual, and they are two-dimensional and non-temporal, in spite of the fact that most poems must be decoded in a certain sequence. When it comes to the semiotic modality, however, there is a general difference: images are normally predominantly iconic, whereas poems are, on the whole, primarily based on conventional, linguistic signs. However, many poems are actually also iconic. This is the case for “visual poetry”, for instance, but poems that do not deviate from the norms of visual configuration may also be loaded with iconic meaning. The notion of visual poetry is thus gravely misleading. All images and poems are visual. The crucial differences that are analyzed in this investigation are the types and degrees of iconicity in poems, in “image-like” poems and in combinations of images and poems.

                      In terms of the types and degrees of iconicity, I will present a semiotic framework based on the idea that meaning can be produced by all kinds of resemblances between visual, auditory, and complex cognitive structures. “Spatial thinking” is a key notion in this framework, and I argue that sensorially perceived structures, primarily stemming from visual and auditory sources, may represent not only other materially mediated structures, but also cognitive structures. Consequently, cognitive structures can also represent both materially mediated structures and other cognitive structures. Developing some of the central notions put forward by Charles Sanders Peirce, I will map the degrees of iconicity (metaphors, weak diagrams, strong diagrams, and images) realized by the various interrelationships between visual, auditory, and complex cognitive structures.

                      Visual iconicity in poetry can consequently be identified as a specific, but in no way unique, part of a rich field of intermedial relations between multimodal media. This investigation will focus on the type of visual media which has been qualified as poetry – a literary genre that, in fact, often includes iconic traits, which sometimes make this genre similar to still images qualified as works of art. However, the iconic traits in poetry are sometimes very different from what we understand as iconicity in art. Nevertheless, visual traits in poetry can resemble and represent not only the visual traits of other objects, but also auditory phenomena and cognitive formations. The iconic meaning produced is thus much more than simple representations of physical forms.

                      Part I of this investigation will be concluded with a pragmatic distinction being drawn between direct and indirect visual iconicity and a simple list of the various ways in which letters, verses and poems as a whole can be arranged in order to produce iconic meaning. In Part II, “Visual Iconicity in Swedish Poetry”, I will discuss my reasons for the selection of certain poems and some general problems connected to the mediation of poetry through the technical medium of books. After this, I will analyze 24 poems written in the Swedish language and dating from the period 1900–2010. I will start with poems that actually cannot be identified as poems in a clear-cut way: combinations of fragments of lyric poetry and photographs or drawings, arrangements of images and text of various kinds, and so forth. Gradually, the poems that I investigate will begin to conform to the narrowest definitions of poetry. The final poems to be analyzed would certainly not be classified as visual poetry by any scholar. Nevertheless, substantial parts of their meaning are generated by visual iconicity, as happens with more image-like poems, poems combined and integrated with photographs and drawings, and indeed images themselves.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Hedemora: Gidlunds förlag, 2011. , p. 168
Keywords [sv]
visuell ikonicitet, intermedialitet, semiotik, svensk lyrik
National Category
General Literature Studies
Research subject
Humanities, Comparative literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-14941ISBN: 978-91-7844-826-5 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-14941DiVA, id: diva2:447630
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 50087801Available from: 2011-10-12 Created: 2011-10-12 Last updated: 2018-05-17Bibliographically approved

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