Unit 3. Word-images

Ordbilledet er skriftsprogets baggrundsmusik


What does a violin sound like?

What does the colour red look like?

How does it feel to be tickled?

Questions we can all readily answer. A tomato tastes – like a tomato. A violin sounds – like a violin. The colour red – is red. It feels ‘funny’ to be tickled. Technically, all these explanations are tautologies. A tautology describes an object by referring to it. A tomato is a tomato. Explanations that do not add anything else to the object requiring explanation than what we already know.

And that can be quite unsatisfactory.

But if we don’t allow ourselves to use tautologies, we end up in a strange predicament. What does a tomato taste like? What does a violin sound like? When we imagine the taste of a tomato or the sound of a violin, we are confronted with the notions of the flavour of a tomato or the sound of a violin. We can hear the sound of the violin – we don’t doubt it for even a moment. But why can’t we readily explain it?

Language becomes shy.

And at the same time it sets itself the most difficult task: to describe what we know but cannot explain.

The solution is the word-image.

We use images to describe what we know but cannot explain.

For this reason, the word-image is central to the art of writing.

It is what determines the reader’s view of what is described. When R. Chandler writes, “her gaze was as deep as the bottom of a cafeteria tray” or “he had a face like a collapsed lung”, we understand what is being described, totally. The writer’s knowledge, humour and depth are read through the originality of the word-images.

The cliché is the original counterpoint to the word-image.

We will not allow ourselves to use clichés, working instead on word-images today.

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