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13 Ways of Looking at Images: the Logic of Visualization in Literature & Society


What is a mental image? 13 Ways marks the beginning of a new era of thinking about images and what they are and do. Exploring a broad sampling of deceptively familiar tracts, Nicholson demonstrates that crystallized, frozen into literary texts are the laws that regulate the proliferation and organization of mental images. In tracing this "logic of visualization," Nicholson shows how society not just individuals thinks in images, and how this "imagethinking" informs social constructs, not just literary texts. A landmark work by a brilliant and engaging scholar.


Hardcover. 248 pages.
ISBN: 0-9631478-5-4. Price (US): $29.95.
NOW IN PRINT!

REVIEW from
The Bloomsbury Review
Vol 24/Issue 3, May/June 2004

Reviewer: Michael G. Cornelius is a professor of English at Wilson College and author of the Lambda Literary Finalist novel Creating Man. His latest book is Susan Slutt, Girl Detective, a parody of detective series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. (Courtesy of The Bloomsbury Review)


A study of how we look at the images we see in our everyday lives-from television, print media, and in the world around us-might sound at first like something that would only interest a psychologist or anthropologist or, since this book addresses the logic of visualization in literature, perhaps an English professor like myself. But Nicholson's examination of how we perceive the world around us makes for fascinating reading regardless of your college major.

Nicholson proposes that the "laws" regulating the proliferation and organization of mental images have been codified or frozen into literary texts. As a result, he works to show us how we as a society—and not as individuals—think in images, and how this "imagethinking," as he calls it, informs every aspect of our socially constructed lives, from politics to romance to religion. As Nicholson notes in his prologue:

Mental images are powerful and they are mysterious . . . they constitute a mode of thinking, a means of understanding: they are not just a (defective) copying of objects outside the self. . . . They are not abstract ideas but sensory events, and as such they . . . affect everybody and everything. Literature provides a key to this important force in society and in the self.

This is a rather bold claim, and perhaps a bit more ostentatious and overreaching than what the book actually accomplishes. In reality, Nicholson isn't attempting to adjust how we perceive things, but rather to get us to explore how and why we perceive things as we do. To do this, he divides his study into 13 chapters, relating the different ways we perceive images, and he uses all manner of literature-from Caedmon's Hymn to The Great Gatsby-to illuminate his points. The writing is erudite but accessible, and the reader comes away with a strong understanding of each individual "imagethinking" category Nicholson describes. The result is a fascinating journey not only into the mind of the author but also into the mind of the reader. At the least, 13 Ways of Looking at Images: the Logic of Visualization in Literature and Society will provide readers with a new way of exploring literature and, at the most, a new way of examining the world around us.

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