Image - Text - Image

In general with translations and adaptions, the closer the source and target media are, the more fidelity is possible. Photos are close to Paintings. Life is closer to pictures than it is to Text. And the shorter the chain of translations, the less risk there is of straying from the original. Going from Life to Photo to Text divorces the Text from Reality even more than normal writing does. This distancing from reality, using representation as raw material, is supposedly a feature of post-modernism.

Where the source and target media don't match up well, the target medium/language might be stretched beyond its usual scope, producing interesting effects. Transcription errors may also introduce fruitful mutants.

Writing poems about painting is a form of translation that is more common that its inverse. Since the emergence of writing, the written word has dominated as a target medium - compact, transportable, durable and cheap. Its convenience is such that it's chosen even if it's not the ideal medium. Some textual descriptions of place or people might better be replaced by photos or maps. Some action novels might easily become graphics novels or movies.

Text is itself an image - even excepting hieroglyphs and Chinese Ideograms, the text's shape on the page can matter, as can the font. When Optical Character Recognition is used to translate a printed document into a digital form, errors like the following can happen -

'Sebastiao' exhibits an exemplary post-modem refraction also; it is a reaction to a photograph, not some kind of aesthetic experience recollected in tranquillity - London Magazine, Aug/Sept 2002, p.113
Presumably "post-modern" has mutated, though "post-modem" has a ring of truth. Technological progress can change the degree of directness we assign to means of apprehension.

In the olden days, literature was nearly always oral: Minstrels, Preachers and Storytellers would entertain the masses. Even in Victorian times when books were prevalent, it wasn't uncommon for friends and families to have evenings where they'd read to each other at the fireside.

Technology (first the Gramophone, then Television) has been blamed for loss of the performed word, though of course, the spoken word hasn't entirely disappeared, it's merely become disembodied. A visit to any Public Library will show you the popularity of Audio Books, and poets in particular have found readings an important (even necessary) spur to their careers. Until the phonograph in 1877, few had heard echoes of themselves though for centuries people had glimpsed their face in mirrors, polished metal, or water. The rich could afford portrait artists. The poor had to await photography, which preceded the phonograph by many years. Some people even saw themselves in motion before they could hear themselves.

Even now, most of us know what we look like before we hear our voice. Hearing ourselves requires some kind of storage device more sophisticated than photos require. Then phones reasserted the voice as a means of distant communication. More recently, new technology (pod-casts and the WWW) is fueling a performance-revival. Broadband is often 20 times faster than phone-based modems. In this post-modem age it's as easy to hear a poem, (or even watch a performance) as to read it. There's even a chance that printed versions of poems will no longer be considered the "master" version of a poem. The poem need no longer be translated from performance to text. At places like the PBS's Fooling with Words we can see the original poet perform, bypassing text, and restoring a measure of immediacy.

In "Simulacres et Simulation" Baudrillard argued that the boundary between image and reality was breaking down. Nowadays video and live web-cams are closing the gap between reality and representation, squeezing the room where post-modernism can play. Perhaps as a consequence of this, post-modernism has become more mainstream. But with desktop digital editing a new generation of video-jocks has emerged, who creatively mix moving images and poetry. Watch this hyperspace.

Updated July 2006
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Tim Love