Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media

Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 55 illustrations Published: September 2001

Author: David Rodowick

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Media Studies > Film, Theory and Philosophy > Psychoanalytic Theory

In Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media D. N. Rodowick applies the concept of “the figural” to a variety of philosophical and aesthetic issues. Inspired by the aesthetic philosophy of Jean-François Lyotard, the figural defines a semiotic regime where the distinction between linguistic and plastic representation breaks down. This opposition, which has been the philosophical foundation of aesthetics since the eighteenth century, has been explicitly challenged by the new electronic, televisual, and digital media. Rodowick—one of the foremost film theorists writing today—contemplates this challenge, describing and critiquing the new regime of signs and new ways of thinking that such media have inaugurated.
To fully comprehend the emergence of the figural requires a genealogical critique of the aesthetic, Rodowick claims. Seeking allies in this effort to deconstruct the opposition of word and image and to create new concepts for comprehending the figural, he journeys through a range of philosophical writings: Thierry Kuntzel and Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier on film theory; Jacques Derrida on the deconstruction of the aesthetic; Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin on the historical image as a utopian force in photography and film; and Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault on the emergence of the figural as both a semiotic regime and a new stratagem of power coincident with the appearance of digital phenomena and of societies of control.
Scholars of philosophy, film theory, cultural criticism, new media, and art history will be interested in the original and sophisticated insights found in this book.


“Efforts at critical understanding of visual phenomena extend back at least as far as Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). In recent years, film, television, and the Internet have greatly stimulated these studies. The six essays included here are at the cutting edge of contemporary rhetorical criticism of these new phenomena.” — P. E. Kane , Choice

“Rodowick’s project is rather encyclopedic and leaves few stones unturned in his discussion of film and digital culture. . . . [T]he book is a package to be reckoned with.” — James Cunning Holland , AfterImage

"Reading the Figural raises all the right issues and thinks them through with an admirable rigor and a rare critical intelligence." — Steven Shaviro, Comparative Literature

“A stunning accomplishment in the theorization of the visual. By situating developments in photography, film, and digital media on multiple hinges between philosophy and history, France and Germany, and visual theory and practices, Rodowick delivers a breathtaking overview of modernist aesthetics and an exciting excursion into transformations on the digital frontier.” — Timothy Murray, author of Like a Film: Ideological Fantasy of Screen, Camera, and Canvas

“Rodowick shows us that the labor of theory is vital and ongoing and that figural thinking is a crucial element for what remains of creative activity and micropolitics in a world where agency appears to be close to extinction.” — Tom Conley, author of The Graphic Unconscious in Early Modern French Writing


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

D. N. Rodowick is Professor of Film Studies at King’s College London. He is the author of Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine (also published by Duke University Press), The Difficulty of Difference: Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference, and Film Theory and The Crisis of Political Modernism: Criticism and Ideology in Contemporary Film Theory.

Table of Contents Back to Top


One. Presenting the Figural

The Idea of the Figural

Lyotard’s Leap into the Void: The Aesthetic before the New Media

Paradoxes of the Visual, or Philosophy after the New Media

Two. Reading the Figural

Rehearsing the Figural

Foucault through Deleuze, or The Diagrammatics of Power

Reading the Figural

The End of Modernism

Three. The Figure and the Text

Film and the Scene of Writing

“With dreams displaced into a forest of script”

Hieroglyphics, Montage, Enunciation

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2722-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2711-0
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