Stafford, Barbara Maria — Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting

In Visual Analogy, Stafford attempts to resuscitate the visual method of analogy and encourage her postmodern readers to realize the numerous and valuable potentials of seeing same-ness in difference.  She turns toward images themselves to explain the nature and function of the analogical procedure that takes place in our consciousness.  For as she explains, there is a (lost) link between visual images and concepts, the intuitive ways in which we think simply by visualizing” (61).  In addition, Stafford demonstrates how allegory or disanalogy as method overtook analogy as method at the turn of the 19th century.  As she explains, with Romanticism came the stubborn “obsession with unbridgeable imparity and the hieratic insistence on insurmountable distance between the material and spiritual realms, resulting in skepticism (61).  In fact, Stafford claims, the rise of allegory, evident in the art of the 19th century, “marks a larger cultural shift.  The allegorical turn is closely allied to the spread of cynicism, the ironization of social conventions from top to bottom that intensified during and after Enlightenment” (71).  It marks a “historical turn away from analogy’s combinatorial strategy to embrace allegory’s reification of independent and unbridgeable modes of experience” (84). 


Stafford attempts to recuperate analogy by tracing the role and function of analogy in philosophical, metaphysical and religious thought across Western history. As she explains, “Analogy—whether in myth, philosophy, religion, history, or aesthetics—grappled with the problem of how to conjoin an accumulated body of practices to the shifting present and elusive future” (133). Analogy was generative because an artful combination always arose when mixing to preexisting elements and, in turn, “transformation always arose at the intersection of constancy with instability, coupling continuity with discontinuity” (133). Analogy enabled resurrection and reconciliation and for this reason, we need to embrace analogy as method once again.  For Stafford insists that in our modern age of otherness, detachment and disconnectedness, which started with Romanticism, we  “have no language for resemblance” (10). We need, Stafford argues, to both retrieve and to construct a more nuanced picture of resemblance and connectedness” (9).  After all, “without a sophisticated theory of analogy, there is only the negative dialectics of difference, ending in the unbreachable impasse of pretended assimiliation or the self-enclosed insistence on absolute identity with no possibility for meaningful communication” (51). Not to mention, electronic commerce demands analogical thinking.


Stafford concludes by pointing out the role that visual arts can play in addressing contemporary efforts in cognitive science to understand connective and intuitive aspects of cognition.   For instance, collage, Stafford claims, helps us “see ourselves mentally laboring to combine many shifting and conflicting perceptions into a unified representation” and thus can serve as a “particularly effective technique for capturing the chimera of consciousness in action” (144 and 146).   In addition, she claims that art “makes visible both the compositional hard wiring as well as the emotional cloudiness of thought colliding with recalcitrant matter” (179).    In affect, while “analogy has something specific to add to the digital revolution and the so-called end of linear thinking” (178); art can “help us discover not only how the mind seeks out and binds clear with fuzzy arrangemtns, or manages to synthesize the vast quantitites of chaotic data with which we are increasingly unindated, but how time and gain, it stitches our mutable, compound selves into a single self in periods of consciousness” (179).  “High level imagery,” in other words, “not only demonstrates the intelligence in perception but makes us aware of the myriad ways in which we become aware” (182). 


Stafford concludes by reminding readers that analogy as method can perform like Latour’s propositions, which are offers “extended by one body or thing to another inviting it to relate in a new manner” (183).  Analogy as method exposes gaps in information, which are opportunities for “interweaving the specialized knowledge of individual cases with more general principles” (184).  “Analogy,” Stafford believes, “can still help us see how to get from here to there” (184). 

Key Questions Addressed:


What methods are useful in study visual culture?  What use is the study of visual culture for the cognitive sciences?  How can analogy be generative as methodology when studying visual culture?  Why has analogy lost its pivotal role in the academy and why should it be recuperated? 



Key Concepts:


Analogy– “vision of ordered relationships articulated as similartity-in-difference” (9).  Analogy is useful because it allows us to “travel back into history, to spring forward in time, to leap across continents” (11).  Analogy “is a demonstrative or evidentiary practice—putting the visible into relationship with the invisible and manifesting the effect of that momentary unison” (23).  Analogy is key to discernment or perceptual judgment because it has an “uncanny visual capacity to bring divided things into unison or span the gap between the contingent and the absolute” (28).  Transforms by nuanced degrees of distinction; its efficacy “consists not simply in communicating what already exists but, like consciousness, in visibly bringing forth what, in fact, it communicates” (175).  Offers a “nonalgorithmic technique for binding our perceptual system to our cognitive system, expressed in terms of similarities and antithesis” (176).  


Allegory (type of disanalogy)—emphasis on characteristics that two or more items do not share; belongs to class of rhetorical devices with two main traits:  exploitation of difference and pursuit of obscurity (63);  reifies dissimilarity;  transforms by absolute difference;


Seeing—being struck that something is, or can be, connected to something else. 


Key Quotes:


Romanticism’s essentially nonvisual, dissective procedure [of allegory] expressed the isolation, intense interdependence, and resulting disconnectedness from the rest of creation felt by by two things or discrete individuals joined in a tenuously exclusive union- 19 the refusal to discriminate among competing characteristics glorified the failure to even attempt such a struggle–61


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One response to “Stafford, Barbara Maria — Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting

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