Postmodern Terminology: A-C D-G H-K L-N O-R S-T U-Z

Oedipus Complex or Oedipal Complex - a sequence of development experiences that Freud argued all human boys went through. It involves the boys romantic feelings for his mother. However, in Freud’s theory, if the Oedipal Complex is “properly” resolved, the boy gives up his quest for his mother’s romantic affections. Supposedly this happens because he believes, unconsciously and symbolically, that he will otherwise be castrated

Ontology - the philosophy of Being, that is, the study of the metaphysical foundations of the universe, foundations that exist beyond science and can only be discovered through reasoning.

Operational definition - a concrete and procedural definition of something that is otherwise difficult to agree about. For example, people can disagree about how creative a particular person is. After all, people are creative in different ways and what one person would consider “creative” another person might consider “off the wall.” But an operational definition removes the challenge of differing opinions and ties the definition to a procedure that is precise and, for those using the operational definition, not contestable. A set of questions might be used to “operationally define” creativity, for example so that every time someone answered a question “yes” they were given a point. Their operationally defined creativity might be the sum of all their points — even if the questions have nothing to do with what you and I ordinarily think of “creativity.” Questions about whether the operational definition measures what it says it measures are questions about the “validity” of an operational definition.

Ostensive definition - To define something by pointing to it as it is named. For example, if someone were to say, “What’s a baboon?” one might point to one (or to a picture of one), and say “That’s a baboon.” Ludwig Wittgenstein organizes much of his thinking around the concept of an “ostensive definition”. The first section of his book, Philosophical Investigations:, begins with a passage from St. Augustine that argued that humans learned language by having adults point to things and name them. Then, Wittgenstein shows how such ostensive training would not be enough because in an actual case thed with no language at all would not know what aspect of the object was being pointed to. When the parent pointed and said “ball”, that is, the child would not know if it was the red color of the ball being named, the roundness of the ball, and so forth. This lays the foundation for Wittgenstein explaining his own philosophy of language.

Other - The term “Other” with a capital “O” is used throughout the postmodern literature. It means something quite different from the word “other” with a small “o”. Whereas the “other” is just someone else, an other with a capital “O” is a more important figure. For some authors, the Other is an imaginary person whom wants talks with, or debates, perhaps a deposit of authority figures. For other authors, and particularly for Emmanuel Levinas in works such as
Time and the Other, the Other is a living person of profound importance in one’s life. return

Pagan - Lyotard’s term. It means to judge without criteria. Lyotard says, “I am not using a concept. It is a name, neither better nor worse than others, for the denomination of a situation in which one judges without criteria.” Just Gaming (Theory and History of Literature, Vol 20) (p.16) Pagans for Lyotard are “ones who judge for themselves” The Lyotard Reader (Blackwell Readers) (p.125) without relying on the authority’s rules as to what is good or bad. Be careful to distinguish this postmodern meaning of the term from both the historical one which means ‘non-Christian’, as well as the contemporary meaning of western (neo)Paganism, especially Wicca.

PAEAN: A joyous song (or hymn, or analogous thing) for praising, giving thanks or tribute, or celebrating triumph.

Pagan voice
- The pagan voice is the heartfelt voice that expressesan opinion that goes beyond the evidence, beyond the rules, beyond the criteria.

PAGEANT: Any of various sorts of temporary exhibitions with processions, perfomances, music and dance, colourful costumes, and the like. Pageants and pageantry are fairly frequently represented in visual art of earlier centuries, and some artsists were also well-known for creating them (e.g., Gianlorenzo Bernini). For a narrower connotation, see carnivalesque.

PAINTERLY: Heinrich Wölfflin’s term for any formal element or compositional principle which draws attention to the characteristic sensuous traits of paint, like fluidity, looseness, impasto, scumbling, texture, and so on. By analogy, even a drawing or a photograph can be painterly. Painterly works are often conventionally understood to be more impassioned than linear ones, which are associated with reason and deliberation. See linear, periodicity. Cf deictic.

PALILOGY: The repetition of a word, or part of a sentence, for the sake of greater emphasis; as, ‘The living, the living, he shall praise thee.’”

PALIMPSEST: A manuscript illumination or similar inscribed surface which has been erased and repainted or otherwise used more than once, so that occasionally layers of what is beneath will show through and blend or interfere with the most recent image on the surface. “Palimpsest” refers to an objective phenomenon, like certain medieval works of art, and it also sometimes used metaphorically to indicate metaphoricity, polysemy, or even simple figurative language (sense 1). See also palimpsestablishment. See also this essay on palimpsest in the context of film studies.

PALIMPSESTABLISHMENT: Because it can have multiple meanings, the word “palimpsest” is sometimes used to signify indeterminacy. But a real palimpsest is limited to those images that actually appear there. That is, a palimpsest might have commingled images of, say, a good shepherd, a pastoral scene, and a classical myth, but that does not give us license to say that it is also represents an experience I had at my grandmother’s house because it reminds me of that. What is actually in the image establishes certain boundaries of interpretation. Within these restrictions one can still produce a bewildering variety of interpretation, depending upon the quantity and kinds of contextual information adduced.

PALINODE: A retraction of something previously said, often in poetic form.

PAINTING: Any of a variety of works of art made by applying paint on a surface. There is a wide variety of types of paint media, surfaces, application tools and techniques, and aesthetic preoccupations. Paint media, for example, include acrylic, bodycolour, casein, enamel, encaustic, fresco, gouache, ink, lacquer, oil, pastel, tempera, watercolour, and any number of natural alternatives from blood to elephant dung. Surfaces include animal hides, architectural features, canvas, cardboard, cotton, felt, paper, silk, wood panels, various types of natural surfaces like rock faces and cave walls, and various types of three-dimensional surfaces, as in combine painting, sculpto-peinture, and other forms of installation and multimedia work. Application tools and techniques include airbrush, brush, drybrush, palette knife, pen, etc. The sky’s the limit for aesthetic preoccupations, since even a brief list here would consitute a summary of much of the entire history of art. Dedicated readers would be well advised to visit a site like Chris Witcombe’s Gateway to Art History.

PANEGYRIC: Formal praise in an elaborate or grave manner, as in a eulogy. One wonders if the word could be applied to a painting like David’s Death of Socrates.

PANEL: Sheet that forms a distinct (usually flat and rectangular) section or component of something

PANOPTIC: Something which provides a comprehensive or panoramic view is said to be panoptic. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon was a model for an ideal prison in which a minimum number of guards could observe a maximum number of prisoners by virtue of having a panoptic view of the goings-on. Michel Foucault appropriated the idea as a metaphor for the scientific point of view, which can supposedly survey everything objectively. Here is more on Foucault’s take on the Panopticon.

PANORAMIC: Pertaining to a panorama — i.e., an unobstructed view in every direction. Figuratively, then, “panoramic” indicates comprehensiveness or thoroughness in a presentation of a subject. By entension it can mean any of several types of visual presentations that endeavour to represent an unobstructed view, as in a panoramic photograph (now commercially available in an impoverished variation) or an enormous painting in which a seemingly endless vista is literally unrolled before an audience, as in certain pre-twentieth-century entertainments. The closest relative to the latter, which is now outdated, is perhaps the IMAX film projection system.

PANTOMIME: A performance using gestures and body movements without words

PARABLE: A short moral story (often with animal characters)

PARADIGM: 1. An example, pattern or standard. In grammar, a paradigm is the set of inflected forms of a word — e.g., “artist, artist’s, artists, artists’” — or the standard pattern followed in the conjugation of a verb — first person singular, second person singular, third person singular, first person plural, second person plural, third person plural. 2. By extension, the term also refers to the basic structure of given mind-sets or models of knowledge, as in paradigm shift. 3. Saussurean semiotics has developed the notion that every sign is part of a system of relationships with other signs structured through similarity and difference. These systems are called paradigms. A word thus has a paradigmatic relationship with its own inflections, new words established through prefixes and suffixes, synonyms and antonyms, etc. The “paradigmatic axis” is a field of possible substitutions of one word for another, developed by Roman Jakobson into what he called a selection relation. In film studies, a paradigmatic axis refers more simply to a single shot or view of something (see mise-en-scène) rather than to a succession of images, so that a metaphor, for example, in a paradigmatic axis is one which emerges in an individual shot, rather than in a sequence of shots (which would be its syntagmatic axis).

PARADIGM SHIFT: Established, largely unconscious habits of mind, like faith in scientific progress in the modern era or the divine right of kings in the mediaeval era, can be considered paradigms. When one era shifts into another, the old habits are disrupted by new ones which eventually settle into a familiar routine. The phrase derives from Thomas Kuhn, who wrote about changes in the history and philosophy of science (see realism), but it is now a commonplace used to describe any sort of major shift of mind-set or perspective. For example, the change from pre-modern to modern art was effectively a change from the so-called “window paradigm” — the idea of a painting as a hole in the wall through which one saw beyond the room, as in Renaissance and Baroque illusionism — to a new paradigm of abstraction. Similarly, the change from modernism to postmodernism is now commonly called a paradigm shift.

PARADIGMATIC AXIS: See paradigm, sense 3.

PARADOX: (logic) a statement that contradicts itself

PARAESTHETICS: A state of being essentially equal or equivalent; equally balanced with beauty

PARAGONE: The state of being in the pass

PARALEPSIS: Suggesting by deliberately concise treatment that much of significance is omitted

PARALINGUISTIC: A paralinguistic shift is a matter of the way form affects meaning: If one changes the delivery of a word or image (that is, the signifier), one can produce a corresponding change in the meaning of the word or image (that is, the signified). Like tropes, these shifts can be conventional, evoking an immediate, intuitive response: For example, everyone spontaneously recognizes the difference between the look, sound, and meaning of “fire” and “FIIIRRRRE!!!” Like tropes, these shifts can also be invented for expressive, aesthetic purposes, as in expressionism. (Similarly, design decisions affect content in architecture: The primary content of a building might be “church,” whereas the secondary content might be “a truely awe-inspiring church for the glory of God” versus “a simple church of humble piety,” or some such thing.)

PARAPHRASE: Rewording for the purpose of clarification

PARATAXIS: See hypotaxis.

PARENT CULTURE: A euphemism for the dominant portion of a culture. See subculture.

PARENTHESES: A postmodern tactic to reveal the hidden agenda of putatively neutral words. Common examples include “(cult)ure” (indicating that culture is in some respects an expression of the symbolic fetishism of cult-worship), “imag(in)ing” (to conflate something akin to aimless day-dreaming with the deliberate construction of ideology), and so on. Some examples seem decidedly sophomoric, and some publications — like the newsletter of the College Art Association — occasionally poke fun at the practice by recording particularly laboured examples from recent conferences, etc. The singular is “parenthesis.”

PARODY: An imitation of the form or content of a prior artwork, either for comic effect or to ridicule it or its author. Originally, parody could be quickly recognized because of a marked tendency towards caricature. The famous cartoons poking fun at Courbet, Manet and others in magazines like Charivari are obvious examples. (Less obvious is whether or not Courbet’s Bathers and Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe are themselves parodies, as was alleged in the television series “Art of the Western World.”) In contemporary discourse, parody is a more serious affair, usually aimed at critiquing (see critique) or undermining the tacit assumptions of, say, patriarchy or late capitalism. Straightforward examples are Hans Haacke’s poster works about American Cyanamid; General Idea’s reworking of Robert Indiana’s Love series as part of an AIDS project; and pieces by any number of appropriation artists. For example, David Buchan redid Jacques-Louis David’s famous À Marat (1793) as an ad for Halo shampoo. It is often very difficult to determine just exactly what signals parody, leading Linda Hutcheon to offer this working definition: “repetition with critical distance [cf aesthetic distance] which allows ironic signalling of difference at the very heart of similarity…. [This] allows an artist to speak to a discourse from within it, but without being totally recuperated by it [see co-opt]” (A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction). Unfortunately, there is still no unequivocal flag that pops up to indicate “this is parody,” leading to all sorts of instances in which, for example, Native art like Bill Powless’ Indian Summer — showing a fat Native in a Speedo suit and umbrella beany, eating a popsicle — is criticized for simply indulging in stereotype, instead of critiquing it (see indulgence or indictment).

PAROUSIA: (Christian theology) the reappearance of Jesus as judge for the Last Judgment

PARTICIPATION MYSTIQUE: Immersion of the individual self in the mystical participation in the collective identity of a culture, usually one that is non-European in origin and practices. The idea crops up in anthropology, ethology, sociology, etc., and it plays a role in Jung’s collective unconscious and visionary mode of artistic creation.

PARTICULARISM: In “Multiculturalism: E Pluribus Plures” (in The American Scholar [summer 1990]), Dianne Ravitch divides multiculturalism into two camps, the pluralists and the particularists. The former seek a richer common culture by including marginal groups in the existing historical narrative, with appropriate modifications (as in add women and stir). The particularists’s goal is separate self-fulfillment through the raising of self-esteem, ethnic pride, and the like. Among other things, Ravitch sees particularism as a wrong-headed assertion that blacks or women can only achieve if taught by blacks or women. Accordingly, she concludes that it is both deterministic (see determinism) and filiopietistic.

PASQUINADE: A composition that imitates or misrepresents somebody’s style, usually in a humorous way

PASSE-PARTOUT: A matte. Used metaphorically in Derrida’s Truth in Painting. See frame.

PASTICHE: A work of art that imitates the style of some previous work. A composition that is a mosaic of other pieces, or fragments or modifications of other pieces.

PATHETIC FALLACY: is the description of inanimate natural objects in a manner that endows them with human feelings, thoughts and sensations. It is when the author expresses the character’s feelings through his/her surroundings.

PATHOGRAPHY: Freud used this term to characterize his investigation of the unconscious motivations of Leonardo da Vinci’s art. E. H. Spitz (in Art and Psyche) has suggested that the term implies that psychoanalytic criticism is necessarily preoccupied with works of art as symptoms of suffering, if not overt mental illness.

PATHOS: The quality that arouses emotions (especially pity or sorrow)

PATHOSFORMEL: Aby Warburg thought that specific historical periods were characterized by coherent clusters of perceptions and feelings, as in, for example, Renaissance classicism. The expression of these perceptions and feelings demanded a certain consistency of formal approach. Warburg thought he could identify principles of configuration which he called pathosformel — which might be translated loosely as “forms or formulas of emotional style” — running through many different arts and giving expression to a wide variety of cultural preoccupations, ranging from folklore to religion. See also iconology, topos.

PATRIARCHY: Literally, the rule of the father. A social organization in which men are the heads of their families and descent and inheritance are reckoned in the male line. Feminism, in characterizing patriarchy more generally as officially sanctioned male dominance, sees it as the root of all evil. For example, Lisa Tuttle’s Encyclopedia of Feminism (1986) defines it as “the universal political structure which privileges men at the expense of women.” Proponents of the new masculinity argue that feminism is right in seeing patriarchy as oppressive but that it is wrong in defining it as the universal privileging of men. A simple example is that men, historically, were drafted into the army and women were not. A more balanced view is probably that industrialized society suffers from epidemic bi-sexism.

PEDANTRY: An ostentatious and inappropriate display of learning

PEDIMENT: The uppermost portion of a principal architectural facade, usually triangular, but sometimes semicircular, broken, and/or curved, or the imitation of same as a decorative motif over windows, doors, and some furniture components.

PEIRCEAN: Pertaining to the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce. See icon, index, interpretant, reference, sign, symbol.

PEN: Produce a literary work

PERCEPTION: The neurological processes by which sensory stimuli are recognized and assigned simple meanings.

PERCEPTUAL: Concerning the faculty of perception. See mind-set for a specific instance.

PERCEPTUALISM: A notion appearing in the writings of Norman Bryson describing the uncritical reception of realism as optical (i.e., perceptual) truth, instead of as a meaning-bearing construction which is therefore subject to the inflections of social values. That is, when confronted with a realist image unreflective viewers think of what is depicted only that “it is,” rather than “it means.” (Bryson does not seem to take into account that what appears to be perceptualism might be a visual instance of a self-effacing or unreliable narrator.) For a related thought, see hypotaxis.

PERIODICITY: The state of being organized and categorized according to periods, as in Renaissance versus Baroque, Byzantine versus Modern, and so on. Since any such scheme streamlines, homogenizes, and ignores or downplays difference, much interesting material is lost. This is one of the fundamental complaints against the canon.

PERIODS: An amount of time

PERIPETY: A sudden and unexpected change of fortune or reverse of circumstances (especially in a literary work)

PERIPHRASIS: A style that involves indirect ways of expressing things

PERRUQUE: A French idiomatic expression meaning work one does for oneself in the guise of work done for an employer, as when one photocopies personal material on the office account, or the like. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau construes the idea as a socio-cultural trope of sorts, in which the socially weak (e.g., those who must work for others) make use of the socially strong (e.g., the bosses) by carving out an independent domain within the circumstances imposed upon them from above. See tactics.


PERSONA: (Jungian psychology) a personal facade that one presents to the world

PERSONIFICATION: The conventional representation of an abstract quality by a concrete thing, usually a person with identifiable attributes. Familiar examples are Justice (a blindfolded woman holding scales) and Liberty (a woman wearing a diadem and holding a torch aloft). In visual art, such representations have been codified for centuries. At one time, an artist who needed to know how to represent something abstract like “knowledge” or “charity” could turn to visual dictionaries, so to speak, like Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, which would give straightforward guidelines to follow.

PERSPECTIVE: The appearance of things relative to one another as determined by their distance from the viewer

PETRACHAN CONCEIT: conceit is a figure of speech which makes an unusual and sometimes elaborately sustained comparison between two dissimilar things. Related to wit, there are two main types:

1. The Petrarchan conceit, used in love poetry, exploits a particular set of images for comparisons with the despairing lover and his unpitying but idolized mistress. For instance, the lover is a ship on a stormy sea, and his mistress “a cloud of dark disdain”; or else the lady is a sun whose beauty and virtue shine on her lover from a distance.

The paradoxical pain and pleasure of lovesickness is often described using oxymoron, for instance uniting peace and war, burning and freezing, and so forth. But images which were novel in the sonnets of Petrarch became clich�s in the poetry of later imitators. Romeo uses hackneyed Petrarchan conceits in describing his love for Rosaline as “bright smoke, cold fire, sick health”; and Shakespeare parodies such conceits in Sonnet 130: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”

2. The metaphysical conceit is characteristic of seventeenth-century writers influenced by John Donne, and became popular again in this century after the revival of the metaphysical poets. This type of conceit draws upon a wide range of knowledge, from the commonplace to the esoteric, and its comparisons are elaborately rationalized.

For instance, Donne’s “The Flea” (1633), partially quoted above, compares a flea bite to the act of love; and in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” (1633) separated lovers are likened to the legs of a compass, the leg drawing the circle eventually returning home to “the fixed foot.”

PHALLOCENTRIC: Any of several self-indulgent tendencies which describe male characteristics as central and female ones as marginal. Anything which foregrounds a putatively essential masculine or patriarchal (see patriarchy) principle can be considered phallocentric. See also phallogocentric. Cf gynocentric.

PHALLOGENERIC: The sexist use of gender-specific nouns and pronouns to refer to generic humanity. For example, Montréal’s Expo ‘67 had as its theme “Man and His World,” even though it was supposed to mean men and women collectively.

PHALLOGOCENTRIC: We traditionally tend to think that words have a necessary relation to the things they describe or designate. Such relations imply a certain presence hovering just behind the word itself. Deconstruction argues that there can be no such presence (see metaphysics of presence) and that words function only on the basis of their differences from other words in given contexts. This replaces presence with absence. Jacques Lacan (see Lacanian) argued that the phallus was the privileged signifier — i.e., the principal presence hovering just behind meaning as a general phenomenon. For Lacan, this was partly a metaphor and partly a psychological account of the way the mind is constituted (see constitutive) by language. Accordingly, any discussion of language which maintains presence as an essential condition is, particularly to some feminist writers, metaphorically an assertion of the primacy of the phallus. In other words, traditional conceptions of language are both word-centered ( logocentric) and phallocentric, hence “phallogocentric.” Paul Berman’s Debating P.C. puts it more bluntly: “the regrettable tradition of imposed masculine logic.”

PHALLUS: The male erect organ of copulation

PHENOMENOLOGY: A philosophical doctrine proposed by Edmund Husserl based on the study of human experience in which considerations of objective reality are not taken into account
Under construction.

PHONEME: In linguistics, the smallest sound, meaningless in itself, capable of indicating a difference in meaning between two morphemes. The word “dog” differs from “cog” by virtue of a change of the phoneme “d” to “c.” One of the problems of early visual semiotics was to determine what constituted a visual counterpart to a phoneme (e.g., Louis Marin, “élements pour une sémiologie,” in Les Sciences humaines et l’histoire de l’art). See also coloreme, phonology.

PHONOCENTRIC: Giving priority to the principles underlying verbal language when attempting to theorize about the very different nature of visual language. See semiotics.

PHONOLOGY: The study of language in terms of the relationships between phonemes. Phonology can be directed at segmental features (the segments of phonemes, like consonants, vowels, syllables) or suprasegmental features (see paralinguistic). See coloreme.

PHOTOCOLLAGE: A collage made chiefly of photographic materials. The Berlin Dada group (from c. 1919) were especially renowned for this technique, with notable examples in the works of Hannah Höch, John Heartfield, George Grosz, and many others.

PHOTOGRAPHY: The underlying principle of photography — that light could pass through a pinhole and be projected upon the other side of a darkened box — predates the mechanical means of modern photography by thousands of years. The first practical instrument to resemble a modern camera was the camera obscura (literally, an “obscure” or “darkened chamber”) , a contraption which allowed an image to be transferred by means of a lens fitted over the hole to a sheet of paper suspended on the other side of the chamber, where the image could be then be traced (see tracing) with some precision. These were available in the seventeenth century, and some scholars believe Jan Vermeer may have been familiar with their use. The first photomechanical means of transferring the image was developed by J.-N. Niépce in 1826, when he discovered that an asphalt coating on pewter, treated with solvent, would be bleached by the sun in proportion to the light reflected through a lens from nearby objects. Because it was a mechanical means of “sun-writing,” as it were, he called the process “heliography” (sun=helios). It was never a practical method because the exposure time ran to many hours. In 1839, the painter L.-J.-M. Daguerre announced an improved process called the daguerrotype, which substituted a silver-coated copper plate sensitized with potassium iodide fumes. The exposure time dropped to a half an hour or so, at which point the plate had to be developed by exposure to mercury fumes and then stopped or “fixed” with a hyposulfite of soda. (The process so effectively foreshadowed subsequent developments that we still use some of this terminology in spite of many significant advancements.) Within ten years or so the process was speeded up again with the application of bromine fumes to the plate. With the exposure time now down to a minute or so, photography began its history as the fashionable medium of portraiture. Popular and prized possessions, daguerrotypes were unlike today’s photographs in that they were fragile, single, non-reproduceable images of high quality and lustre, typically protected by little decorative boxes lined with velvet. Both the heliograph and the daguerrotype were positive processes: that is, both required that the light-sensitive plate be directly changed by light exposure, so that bright light created a bright spot on the plate. The next step in the evolution of modern photography was the discovery of a negative process, in which a bright light created a dark spot on an interim surface from which multiple prints could be made. That invention is attributed to W. F. Talbot, whose calotype (sometimes called “Talbotype”) of 1841 replaced the copper plate with a paper sheet sensitized with silver iodide. Prints made from these negatives would of course reverse the process and become positive images again. However, they were generally poorer in quality, so the method died entirely with F. S. Archer’s 1851 publication of the wet-plate or collodion process, which reduced exposure times to mere seconds and produced a glass negative from which multiple prints of better quality could be produced. Collodion’s disadvantage was that exposure, development and fixing had to be done in a sort of portable darkroom while the plate was still wet. Both processes produced albumen prints, so-called for the paper, which was coated with egg white and ammonium chloride and which produced a rich and lustrous surface. The gelatin-silver print gradually replaced this technique in the late 1870s and 1880s with a so-called dry-plate process involving papers coated with silver halide suspended in a gelatin emulsion. Roll film came along about the same time, enabling George Eastman to create an entirely new consumer phenomenon by marketing the Kodak camera in 1888. (Roll film, incidentally, also made the discovery of practical motion pictures possible.) Until the inventions of Edwin Land’s Polaroid instant camera and the digital camera, subsequent developments were mostly a matter of camera size, shutter speeds, and the like. There is a large repository of useful supplementary information, including technical definitions, at Robert Leggat’s History of Photography site.

PHOTOMONTAGE: A mixing of imagery through means peculiar to photography to achieve collage-like effects, not always precisely distinguished from photocollage.

PLAISIR: French for pleasure. See jouissance, pleasure of the text.

PLAN AMERICAIN: In film studies, compositions which close in on figures so they are framed only from the midthigh or waist up. It is sometimes also called the “American foreground.”

PLAN FRANCAIS: In film studies, compositions which close in on figures so they are framed only from the ankles up.

PLAN SEQUENCE: In film studies, compositions which obscure and disclose details of the scene sequentially in order to manipulate the viewer’s attention.

PLANE OF CONTENT, PLANE OF EXPRESSION: In Prolegomena to a Theory of Language, Louis Hjelmslev distinguished between the actual content of an utterance and the manner in which that content is expressed. (”Content” here is conceived of as only the primary and secondary types described under the heading content.) While early visual semiotics (e.g., Umberto Eco, “Sémiologie des messages visuels,” Communications 15 [1970]: 11-51; and René Lindekens, élements pour une sémiotique de la photographie [1971]) saw simple enough parallels between verbal content and visual iconography, it noted that the visual plane of expression differs markedly from the verbal one. This necessitated a revised description of the plane of expression, one which differed from verbal syntactics. Although this led Eco to conclude that the icon could not serve as the true basis for a visual semiotics (A Theory of Semiotics), he offered no compelling solution. In Semiotics of Visual Language, Fernande Saint-Martin offered a solution with her conception of “spatiality,” which she defined as “the apprehension of a simultaneous coexistence of multiple elements in an autonomous form of organization, which is considerably different from that of the temporal order of these elements.” Spatiality, she argued, was peculiar to the visual in a way that did not occur in the verbal and was therefore more appropriate in describing a truly visual syntax. Spatiality in turn led her to her conception of the coloreme.

PLANE OF EXPRESSION: See plane of content, plane of expression.

PLANIMETRIC: Heinrich Wölfflin’s term for a clothesline type of composition which arranges figures on a plane parallel to the surface of the object, rather than on diagonals receding into depth.

PLASTIC: “Plastic” does not mean polymer, in an artwriting context. It simply means that which can be molded or modeled. Typically it refers to sculptural works, especially in the German tradition, but in some contexts it means any type of visual art, before the era of photographic and electronic imagery, especially if it has 3D properties. Nothing more obscure than that.

PLAUSIBILITY: In Philosophy Looks at the Arts, Joseph Margolis replaces the closure and determinacy of right and wrong interpretations with the more flexible notion of plausibility. The criteria include such things as whether a conclusion is reasonable or unreasonable, appropriate or inappropriate, and the like. The process of rendering interpretation more flexible consists in part of exposure to a wide variety of modes. See also falsification, misprision, validity, verification.

PLEASURE: See jouissance.

PLEIN AIR: En plein air simply means that the artist painted outside, literally “in empty (or open) air,” instead of in the studio. Occasionally one also sees the derivative term pleinairisme, which is nothing more than a grammatical inflection of the same idea. For example, Monet (or whomever) painted en plein air during the period in which pleinairisme was in fashion.

PLURALISM: 1. A near synonym of multiculturalism, which entails a lack of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, creed, class and the like. For an antonym, see particularism. 2. In artwriting, the term is also used simply to describe the late 1960s to the 1980s, when no one style predominated and a variety of options was seen as a sign of cultural health and diversity. See, for example, Corinne Robins’ The Pluralist Era, which offers relatively little multiculturalism per se.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: Originally used by the political left to describe approvingly those who subscribed unswervingly to party policy. Since the early 1990s, however, the phrase is taken to be an ironic condemnation of anyone — particularly one educated in the highly politicized 1960s (although even this is a matter of debate) — who seeks to effect a social transformation through various practices in post-secondary education. The practices range from challenges to the traditional curriculum (i.e., the canon of so-called DWMs) to the censure of public language that might be offensive to ethnic minorities. It is important to note that the transformation of the sense of the phrase was undertaken almost entirely in the popular press, leading to many misunderstandings on both sides. In fact, it may not be correct to say that there are “sides,” since many of the participants seem to disagree on things that evaporate under close scrutiny. For example, some people are called “politically correct” simply because they abjure social ills like ethnic discrimination, imperialism, violence against women, and other things which nobody in their right mind would condone. Other kinds of political correctness have a less visible agenda, like the replacement of absolutism in interpretation with relativism, or critical theory’s rejection of scientific disinterestedness and value-freedom. Whether or not such partisans are as demagogic (see demagogue) as they are often described is a matter to be discussed carefully on an individual basis. Paul Berman’s anthology Debating P.C. would make a useful starting point.

Michael L. Hoover (McGill) adds the following: “As leftie grad students in New York in the late 70s early 80s, we used the term ‘political correctness’ often and never approvingly — it was used to refer to a slavish and unthinking adherence to some political line (Maoist in the beginning, then any line), with the sense that the ‘politically correct’ person was mouthing some correct phrase as though that was the answer to whatever issue was at hand. Using the phrase originally had the clear implication of rejecting Mao’s cultural revolution (where ‘correct thought’ figured highly). The phrase was used throughout the eighties by leftists to refer DISAPPROVINGLY to — especially — undergraduate proto-leftists who thought that by using the right words and phrases, they were actually making political change. Just thought I’d let you know — love the web page by the way “

POLITICAL UNCONSCIOUS: Along with many other postmodern (see postmodernism) writers, Fredric Jameson feels that an audience never encounters a text innocently, as a unique, unmediated thing (see mediation). Texts appear instead as the always-already-read, something composed by a writer in response to previous texts, something discovered by a reader only through layers of previous interpretations or through inherited habits and traditions of reading. Any interpretation thus constructed is inherently ideological (see ideology), but since readers are usually unaware of the operations of ideology in their habits of mind, the term “political unconscious” is apt. The subtitle of Jameson’s most famous book is telling: The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act.

POLITICALLY CORRECT: See political correctness.

POLITICS OF IDENTITY: An umbrella term for political and/or critical agitation by specific social groups, including black nationalism (see afrocenticity), women’s rights (see feminism), gay and lesbian liberation, diverse ethnic revivals, and so on.

POLITICS OF INTERPRETATION: An umbrella term for a variety of types of critique of the act of interpretation as a thinly-veiled ideological activity (see ideology).

POLITICS OF THE TEXTBOOK: An umbrella term for a variety of types of critique of the textbook writing and publishing as thinly-veiled ideological activities (see ideology).

POLYPTYCH: See polyptych.

POLYSEMY: From the Greek for “many signs,” the hypothetically infinite range of meanings which results when determinacy is replaced by indeterminacy. The term has become so commonplace that it is impossible to attribute to a particular writer. For other applications, see illustrement, linguistic inflation.


PORTRAITURE: A word picture of a person’s appearance and character

POSSIBILITY (OF MEANING): See inexhaustibility by contrast, meaning.

POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC: Latin for “after this, therefore on account of it.” It is a common error in argument similar to the genetic fallacy. That one thing habitually follows another thing does not ensure that the latter caused the former. A specific application of the principle is Hume’s constant conjunction.

POSTCOLONIAL: Characterizing a society moving away from cultural, economic, psychological, social and other dependence on the subordination of another social group. Cf imperialism.

POSTINDUSTRIAL: Characterizing a society moving from economic dependence on heavy manufacturing (and its concomitant problems, like waste and pollution) to one more interested in information exchange, recycling, cultural democracy, and a number of related things.

POSTMODERNISM: It is something of a gross oversimplification, considering that modernism and postmodernism are difficult concepts circulating in disputed territory, but it is safe to say at least that modernism tended to have faith in the perfectibility of mankind through technology and rationalistic planning. It is now felt that these were instruments of white European males interested only in maintaining their own hegemony, so the result was a certain homogeneity which disallowed cultural differences. Art which seemed to illustrate, foster or otherwise exemplify values like faith in perfectibility and rationalism was modernist art. In contrast, today’s emphasis on the cultures of women, peoples of colour, and gays and lesbians might be seen as postmodernist by default. Examples of modernism include such things as Le Corbusier’s house designs and Piet Mondrian’s geometric abstraction, both of which were supposed not only to be aesthetic but, more importantly, to affect viewers in salutary ways. That the world could always supposedly be improved upon also led to two other characteristics of modernism in the arts: that art could progress, suggesting that the worst thing one could do would be to repeat something which had been done before, and that the way to progress in art was to focus on its only essential characteristic — i.e., that painting would only be about painting, sculpture would only be about sculpture, etc., as in formalism. In contrast, postmodernism seems gleefully to assert that there is nothing new under the sun and that works which speak only about their essential characteristics really say nothing at all about the human condition. Colloquially, what is often simply described as “modern art” included types of work which actively critiqued modernist values, so while it might have been chronologically modern it was not modernist. In fact, what might be called anti-modernist art bears many of the characteristics of what we now call postmodernism. For example, neither Dada nor Surrealism had any faith in reason, preferred uncertainty, adapted imagery from other cultures and eras, and exploited irony, mockery and humour. (Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q, a reproduction of the Mona Lisa with a mustache and those letters applied summarily, is a prime example.) All of these traits appear in postmodernism. For example, in postmodern architecture we find allusions to illogical mixtures of historical building styles, many of the references turning the source on its ear in the same way as historical mannerism. See, for example, the use of the unexpected in James Stirling’s Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart or Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans. Because of its critical stance towards the certainty and homogeneity of modernist tradition, postmodernism is far too complex to characterize with one simple set of stylistic criteria. In any case, it is more a matter of any attitude which invokes an unconventional fusion or overt diversity of historical and/or cultural styles (e.g., David Salle), with particular emphasis on critique, irony or mockery (e.g., Guerilla Girls). Charles Jencks, for example, describes it as “characteristically double-coded and ironic…, [emphasizing] conflict and discontinuity of traditions, because this heterogeneity most clearly captures our pluralism.” Linda Hutcheon asserts that postmodernism and parody are nearly synonymous. Warren Montag argues that “We act within a specific conjecture only to see that conjecture transformed beneath our feet, perhaps by our intervention itself, but always in ways that ultimately escape our intention or control, thereby requiring new interventions ad infinitum” (see Postmodernism and Its Critics, ed. E. A. Kaplan, for these and many other explanations). One of the better known proponents of postmodernism is Jean-François Lyotard, whose Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge offers lengthy meditations on the subject. In the introduction, for example, he defines it simply as “incredulity towards metanarratives,” where “metanarrative” means the set of values and expectations underlying faith in reason and science. Elsewhere he argues that a postmodern work is not made according to preestablished rules and cannot therefore be judged by applying familiar categories of analysis; in fact, the very purpose of the work is to search for and create new sets of rules and categories. See also culture jamming, death of the author, Derridean, prolepsis, skepticism.

POTBOILER: Formulaic works of art produced cheaply and quickly produced to satisfy a market demand — usually for genre paintings — and to make a modest income (i.e., to keep soup boiling in the pot). By extension, the term has come to mean any work considered to lack distinctive quality or originality. Almost every continent has a maker of potboilers, although many of them are also well-known for more important works: in Canada, Cornelius Krieghoff; in Europe, Carl Spitzweg; in the United Kingdom, David Wilke, and so on.

POWER: One of the more crucial conceptions of much postmodern is that things we used to take for granted as given — things like nature and truth — do not have objectively verifiable existence because they are nothing more than paradigms created, unwittingly or not, by broad, impersonal forces in society. For Foucauldians, these forces are determined by epistemes, habits of knowing peculiar to given social groups who have managed to suppress rival groups in practice and who continue to maintain power by instituting (see critique of institutions) symbolic mechanisms which masquerade as disinterested knowledge, but which are really systems intended to keep subjugated those peoples who are uninitiated or excluded. A British lecturer on photography from the University of Derby, John Roberts, defines power more succinctly as the viewer’s right of reply, which thus invites comparison with Susanne Kappeler’s critique of pornography. All sorts of things have been challenged as instances of this kind of power: academic standards like the traditional canon, certificates/diplomas/degrees, the “King’s English,” logic, and standards of pronunciation; and the general cultural attitudes described under the headings ageism, classism, homophobia, lookism, racism, sexism and so on. See also hegemony.

PRAGMATICS, SEMANTICS, SYNTACTICS: Charles W. Morris developed a three-part structure to clarify the nature of language. “Pragmatics” he defined as the study of the circumstances in which a communication takes place, ranging from purely material conditions like the presence or absence of noise to more intangible conditions like personal motivations or the relations between speaker and audience. Pragmatics is thus very close to context. “Semantics” he defined as the study of meaning in signs prior to their use in a particular statement. While this might suggest that a parallel can be drawn between semantics and iconography, Morris’s term is more abstract and closer in meaning to interpretant and paradigm (sense 3), both of which can be embraced within the term content. “Syntactics” Morris defined as the study of rules of syntax or grammar (see also code [sense 2]), which to some extent is embraced within the term form.

PREJUDICE: In common speech, bias or unfair treatment. In Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory — most notably in Truth and Method - - one cannot achieve an objective understanding of the meaning of a work produced under culturally, geographically, historically and/or socially alien circumstances. One can, however, achieve a balanced understanding (and a sort of dialogue between past and present that goes beyond superficial perspectivism) by making oneself fully aware (via a hermeneutic circle) of the conditions and assumptions underlying one’s own point of view, as well as those of the author. These conditions he called prejudices or prejudgements.

PRESENCE: The fact or condition of being present — i.e., of being at hand or before one, of actually existing. In postmodern contexts, presence is caught up in the discussion of determinacy in the sense that there must be something lurking behind a sign in order to guarantee that it will signify. In that sense, a determinist would believe in some sort of presence (if only metaphorically). In contrast, deconstruction would argue that there is no such metaphysical guarantee. See, for example, metaphysics of presence.

PRESENTATIONAL SYMBOL: Professor Dale Cannon gives this: “A religious symbol that serves not only to represent some aspect of what is taken to be ultimate reality but which in the appropriate circumstances serves for participants to render it present and enable direct participation in it. In that respect they are sometimes called sacramental symbols. All presentational symbols are in the first place representational symbols, but the reverse is not true.” Professor Cannon’s site is the (R204: Glossary for his Western Religions course at Western Oregon University.

PRESENTIMENT: Foreboding. Giorgio de Chirico said that an ominous feeling of something about to happen was a characteristic of good metaphysical art. It has been argued that he was directly influenced in this by Freud’s uncanny. The idea appears frequently in aesthetic theory, albeit in slightly different forms. Another example is in Jung’s notion of the visionary mode of artistic creation.

PRESENTMENT: Not a common word, but Edward Bullough (see aesthetic distance) used it to denote the manner of presenting something, as distinct from “presentation,” which he understood to mean that which is presented. The word is not to be confused with presentiment either.

PRESTATION VALUE: The conventional prestige value of a sign in an otherwise valueless Baudrillardian world of simulacra. See Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe in Arts (September 1986).

PRIMARY COLOURS: The basic hues of the spectrum from which all of the other hues can be mixed. The primary colours actually differ from context to context, but in the classic formal language of much artwriting, there are only the three: red, blue and yellow. Classic colour theory asserts that admixtures of any two of these in the proper proportions will result in the creation of “secondary” colours which will be the “complementary” of the third primary colour. For example, mixing the primary red and blue gives the secondary violet, which is the complementary of yellow; mixing red and yellow gives orange, the complementary of blue; and mixing yellow and blue gives green, the complementary of red. One of the curious optical phenomena attending this observation is that a hue will always seem its most vibrant when accompanied by its complementary. This is very easy to test with combinations of squares of the sort often reproduced in pyschology survey texts: several small squares of an identical red will appear quite different when sent into larger squares of different hues, and the apparently most vibrant red will be the one surrounded by the hue closest to its complementary green. Painterly artists from Titian to Matisse have long known and exploited this effect, although it was not theorized coherently until the nineteenth century publication of the works of Eugène Chevreul and other colour theorists. There are, of course, further admixtures of hue one could call tertiary and quaternary colours, and so on down the line, but there are diminishing returns in terms of usefulness. Correspondent Zachary Stadel offers an interesting corrective under the heading colour theory.


PRIMORDIAL IMAGE: The term was coined by Jakob Burckhardt, but it is now most closely associated with C. G. Jung’s notion of the archetype. See visionary mode of artistic creation.

PROBLEMATIC: Some writers use this conventionally as an adjective meaning “ambiguous, capable of creating a problem, doubtful, questionable.” Writers of Marxist inclination tend to use it more specifically as a noun meaning the ideological framework within which a particular issue is discussed (see ideology). For example, the Marxist critique of the art of Gustave Courbet in the early 1850s is driven by the problematic of class struggle. For “problematic,” see Louis Althusser and E. Balibar, Reading Capital (1968). For Courbet, see T. J. Clark, The Image of the People (1973).

PROCESS: In some current writing there is a greater emphasis on the mechanisms of creating meaning (the “process”) than on meaning (the “product”) itself, especially when the writer is particularly concerned with ideology. See, for example, signifying practice.

PRODUCT: See process.

PRODUCT SEMANTICS: Phrase coined by Reinhart Butter to indicate loosely the semiotics of advertising, for the producers of such products. It was used as the title of a conference at the University of Industrial Arts in Helsinki in 1989.

PROFONDEUR DE CHAMP:In film studies, compositions which emphasize deep space, rather than so-called planimetric compositions. The phrase is often translated as “depth of field.”

PRO HOMINE: A tactic in informal logic where conclusion X should be accepted because it is held to be true by person Y, who is ostensibly knowledgeable, trustworthy, and free of bias. Rarely identified as such, the tactic appears with alarming frequency in some writing about art — alarming because the alleged authority is frequently not above suspicion. An instance which casts connoisseurship in a poor light is a story in which the famed connoisseur Bernard Berenson gave a painting a highly desirable attribution — or, to be more charitable, he did not deny it the attribution — because he was pressured to do so by the works’ owners. To challenge such an attribution principally on the grounds that Berenson was allegedly untrustworthy, rather than some material evidence about the work itself, is an ad hominem argument, the opposite of pro homine.

PROLEPSIS: An anticipation, as in foreseeing possible objections to an argument in order to answer them in advance. In a different form, this concept is fairly common in current thought, but it is rarely addressed as such. For example, we see in Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition the statement that artists work “without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done” (author’s stress). See also always-already-read, woman as the not-yet.

PROTAGONIST: In narrative analysis, the principal character, hero(ine) or leading role. In Angelica Kauffmann’s Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, the protagonist is Cornelia. In David’s Le Sacre, it is Napoleon.

PSEUDO-STORY: See narrative analysis.

PSEUDOTRANSHISTORICAL: It is a commonplace in popular culture for people to assume that certain great works of the past do not really belong to the past but to a perpetual present. Accordingly, for example, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling or Leonardo’s Mona Lisa appear to be timeless (see timelessness), giving the viewer the opportunity to read into them any meaning they choose. While one component of this enterprise — the undermining of exclusive authorial responsibility for the production of meaning — is generally applauded in postmodernism, it also creates the illusion that the artist intended the work to exist outside of his or her particular historical moment, which is, according to postmodern thought in general, quite impossible. Mieke Bal (Reading Rembrandt: Beyond the Word/Image Opposition) has added “pseudo” to show that the impression of timelessness is false. See also greatness, masterpiece, transcendental.

PSYCHIC EMBED: Mary Daly’s term (in Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy) for basic structures of or practices within the female psyche which usually function without the subject’s being aware of them. One such is what Demaris S. Wehr called internalized oppression.

PSYCHOANALYTICAL CRITICISM: Practitioners have included writers from both artwriting and professional psychoanalytical fields. Examples of the former include Jack Spector, Adrian Stokes, Mary Mathews Gedo, and Donald Kuspit. Examples of the latter include Milton Viederman.

PSYCHOLOGICAL MODE OF ARTISTIC CREATION: See visionary mode of artistic creation.

PSYCHOPHYSICAL PARALLELISM: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s response to the mind-body problem was similar to occasionalism in that both denied the direct interaction of mind and body. Leibniz, however, did not conclude that the only will was divine intervention, preferring to believe that the mind and the body were ordained to be separate but parallel to one another.

PUN: The opposite of double entendre. Where a double entendre is a play on a single word with two or more meanings, a pun is a play on different words with the same sound. When the doctor told the patient who dreamt on alternate nights that he was a wigwam and a teepee that he was “too tense,” the doctor used a pun (one sound, two words). If the doctor had said the patient would feel a prick as soon as he bent over, he would have used a double entendre (one word, two meanings).

PURITANISM: Beginning in sixteenth century England as a programme of religious reform, but now associated with any particularly zealous austerity, discipline, frugality, industry, and the like. One can discern a Puritan sensibility in most art which favours austerity, and it is particularly common in Dutch art, from Baroque-era paintings of plain church interiors to Mondrian’s mature works. Most recently, the term has been applied to both sides of the debate on political correctness to explain fairly high degrees of intolerance.

Paralogue – a term invented by Lynn Hoffman. A paralogue is a written format that maintains the voices of the individual authors but connects them in such a way that they read each other’s contribution and influence each other so as to yield a sense of paralogical progress. return

Paralogy- Lyotard introduced the term “paralogy” in the last chapter of his influential book, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Theory and History of Literature) (p.60) Paralogy is a kind of conversation in which the speakers talk to each other in inventive ways, making conversational moves in an ongoing process. Such paralogical conversation evokes new ideas and stimulates social bonding. In this last chapter of The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge , Lyotard also argues that paralogy can provide a way for conversationalists to evaluate the legitimacy of their ideas and beliefs..

Pathologize - to take a particular way of reacting, feeling, or being and treat it as a disease, or the manifestation of a disease. For example, homosexuality was for centuries thought to be an “unethical” action in the western world and then in the early part of the twentieth century it was “pathologized” and treated as a form of mental illness. return

Performative utterance - a statement that, in being made, produces a change in the way things are no matter what the response to it. For example, when someone says, “I promise you that I will do X” then results in a changed obligation regardless of whether that person actually does X. This concept was introduced in philosophy by J. L. Austin. See chapter 10 of his book, Philosophical Papers (Clarendon Paperbacks).

phenomenology - The study of conscious experience.

Picture theory of language - a theory of early Wittgenstein (as written about in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.) The theory says that all objects are either simple (without parts) or made up of simples. Language represents the relationship of these simples to each other as a kind of picture, and the atoms of the picture correspond to elements in the world that are pictured. (See the Philosophical Investigations) Click here here to look into the relationship between the picture theory of language and artificial intelligence research. return

Play- “play” is the infinite substitute of meanings. Every term, every phrase,has a certain range of meanings and these substitute for each other indifferent contexts. That is the “play” of language. return

Posit - (as in “de-posit) A common term in modern philosophy. To posit is to treat a situation as being true for the purpose of studying such a situation or reasoning about it

Positivism - the form of positivism that is most relevant to postmodernism is the positivism of the early twentieth century which is often called “logical positivism” but also includes other branches of positivism. A positivist theory is one that defines its terms precisely and tries to invent ways to talk and think that don’t get lost in obscurities in the hopes of discovering a more powerful and accurate language calculus. Traditional social science research, with random samples, operationally defined variables, and statistical analysis, is positivist. Early Wittgenstein was a positivist. Later Wittgenstein was a postpositivist.

Positive connotation - for a term to suggest that the situation it names is a positive state of affairs. In the statement “Jack is easy-going,” the term “easy-going” has a positive connotation, suggesting that this attribute of Jack’s is a positive state of affairs. The same quality might be described with a term that has negative connotation, as in “Jack is lazy.” Milan family therapy, at one time, used a technique of “positive connotation” using language to suggest that everything about the family was positive, and somehow beneficial to the family. Even the symptoms were described as positive. See Milan Systemic Family Therapy: Conversations in Theory and Practice .

Postpositivism - is a philosophy that rejects the project of positivism (that is, rejects the project of trying to clean up language to make it more logically tight). Postpositivism remains powerfully influenced by positivism, however, in that it sees langauge as critically important in all philosophical projects. Neverthless, it studies language as it is and does not engage in the project of making it more logically tight. return

Postmodern - Perhaps the most prominant definition of postmodernism comes from Jean-Francois Lyotard. According to Lyotard, the “postmodern” (see his book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, p.xxv) is an incredulity towards meta-narratives. This means the postmodern is one who is skeptical of theories that speak in grand generalities and that universalize their conclusions by pretending there are no exceptions. Translated into therapy theory this often means that the postmodern therapist works to avoid dogmatic posturing and claiming to state the “Truth” of the client’s situation. In postmodern discussion forums this means that the common quest is not for consensus to emerge around some grand statement but for paralogical conversation to emerge. For many people, especially in postmodern therapy, “postmodern” means disillusionment with the standard way of understanding things. In this case, the therapist tries to offer a less “pathologizing” way of thinking about the client’s issuesSome disillusioned postmoderns, however, are nostalgic, and see no path forwards, whereas other postmodern therapists are visionary . Even the most visionary, however, are likely to be tolerant of alternative and multiple points of view on an issue, all a consequence of learning to live without faith in metanarratives, to live with uncertainty and not-knowing.

Postmodern imagination - Numerous authors have sketched out a philosophy of postmodern imagination including Richard Kearny in The Wake of Imagination, and also Walter Brueggeman. Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination. If postmodernity deconstructs the modern understandings than what is needed is imaginative innovation to replace and improve on past traditions. How we spark postmodern imagination is a topic worthy of consideration. In the Postmodern Condition, Lyotard also talks about paralogy as a source of postmodern imagination.

Post-foundationalism - philosophers who reject foundationalism. return

Poststructruralism - a school of thought that critiques structuralist thinking, generally such as Deconstructionism.Derrida, the father of deconstrucitonism, is a key poststructuralist thinker. return

Praxis - the practical or customary application of a branch of learning. return

Premodern - The premodern is what came before modernism. The premodern is one who has unquestioning faith in a revealed truth, a religious truth, a superstitious truth or a truth passed along by word of mouth. return

Punctuation - In postmodern therapies, to punctuate is to treat a certain element in a causal sequence as the originating cause even though it may have, itself, have been caused by something else.

QUADRIVIUM: (Middle Ages) a higher division of the curriculum in a medieval university involving arithmetic and music and geometry and astronomy

QUALITY: A degree of excellence or superiority, whether of form or content. Quality in a work of art has become a highly problematic concept from a postmodern point of view, since any notion of what constitutes quality by definition excludes other possibilities, leading some to charge that it is little more than an instrument of imperialism, racism and other forms of oppression. And yet, however vaguely it is defined, some types of criticism — especially connoisseurship and formalism — have relied on it very heavily. (For a complaint in this regard, see Hilton Kramer’s “The Prospect Before Us,” in New Criterion [September 1990]). See also cultural selection, genius, masterpiece.

QUANTOHISTORY: The historical study of patterns of cultural change with the tools and methods of statistical analysis. The approach has made very few inroads into artwriting.

QUOIN: Corner stones in architecture lending strength or other emphasis, distinguished from the rest of the surface by greater size, different colour, and/or rustication, or the imitation of same in brick or paint.

QUOTATION: The presentation, within one’s own work, of a selection or brief passage from another’s work and the acknowledgment thereof. This is usually restricted to verbal excerpts from another’s work, but it is easily extendable to visual culture, especially in instances of allusion, appropriation, and citation. See also source analysis.

Queer - in the nineteen-fifties the term “queer” was a slur, a term of condemnation for people identified as homosexual. Today, the term usually represents stance towards homosexuality that does not fix it within a particular gender identity. A “queer” is a person who, at least in theory, is willing to be lovers with either men or women. return

Queer theory - theorizes that gender and sexual identities are not fixed. See Butler in ( Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity) return

QUADRIVIUM: (Middle Ages) a higher division of the curriculum in a medieval university involving arithmetic and music and geometry and astronomy

QUALITY: A degree of excellence or superiority, whether of form or content. Quality in a work of artpostmodern point of view, since any notion of what constitutes quality by definition excludes other possibilities, leading some to charge that it is little more than an instrument of imperialism, racism and other forms of oppression. And yet, however vaguely it is defined, some types of criticism — especially connoisseurship and formalism — have relied on it very heavily. (For a complaint in this regard, see Hilton Kramer’s “The Prospect Before Us,” in New Criterion [September 1990]). See also cultural selection, genius, masterpiece.

QUANTOHISTORY: The historical study of patterns of cultural change with the tools and methods of statistical analysis. The approach has made very few inroads into artwriting.

QUOIN: Corner stones in architecture lending strength or other emphasis, distinguished from the rest of the surface by greater size, different colour, and/or rustication, or the imitation of same in brick or paint.

QUOTATION: The presentation, within one’s own work, of a selection or brief passage from another’s work and the acknowledgment thereof. This is usually restricted to verbal excerpts from another’s work, but it is easily extendable to visual culture, especially in instances of allusion, appropriation, and citation. See also source analysis. has become a highly problematic concept from a

RACISM: Systematic discrimination and other forms of oppression directed at members of other races. The problem has appeared in art and artwriting in a variety of forms, ranging from descriptions of simple illustrations of the problem, both pro and con, to thorough investigations of whether the canon of mostly DWMs is part of a larger conspiracy to exclude non-whites.

RADIAL BALANCE: A “pinwheel” balance achieved by contriving parts of an image to spin more or less from a central point. The classic example is Rubens’ Rape of the Dauighters of Leucippus.

READ INTO: Colloquial expression referring to the practice of producing meanings in the reverse of what had been thought to be the normal pattern, prior to postmodernism, from artist to work to audience. That is, the viewer tends less to extract what is thought to be “genuine” meaning from the work in favour of pushing meanings of his or her own back into it. While this phrase has most often been used rather dismissively (as in “you’re just reading into it what you want it to be”), the practice has become commonplace — even valorized — in postmodernism, albeit on a more complex level.

REAL: Lacanian term, originally for what might be expected, the actual and verifiable, as opposed to the imaginary and the symbolic. In later writings, the term has taken on a slightly more developed sense: since everyone operates psychologically within the realm of the symbolic, no-one can ever truely gain access to the real, meaning that it is forever just out of reach. In that sense, then, it is not “verifiable.” Since art can only deal with the imaginary and the symbolic, then, the real in this sense has little utility in artwriting.

REALISM: A highly problematic word with different connotations in different contexts. 1. In popular parlance it means a generic species of representation that looks real, in the sense that some art historynaturalism. In this sense, realism is the representation of a putatively unmediated world, by whatever means (see mediation). One of the common themes of postmodernism is a challenge of this still-popular notion. See, for example, discursive activity, énonciation, perceptualism. 2. In traditional art history, Realism (with an upper case “R”) denotes the type of realism practiced in the nineteenth century by Gustave Courbet and his successors, often involving some sort of sociopolitical or moral message, if only by virtue of context. 3. Philosophy provides the third and fourth senses: in scholastic philosophy, realism means what most people understand as “idealism,” i.e., that (more or less Platonic) universals have a genuine, tangible existence; 4. in more modern philosophy, realism is very nearly the exact opposite, the “common sense” attitude that real objects exist independently of their being observed. Sometimes called “metaphysical realism,” this latter position is cast in doubt by much postmodernism as well. Notable examples are Thomas Kuhn’s uses the word Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Both assert that claims to have discovered objective truth, in science and philosophy respectively, cannot be substantiated and must be replaced by conceptions akin to paradigm shift.

RECEIVED OPINION: A relative consensus about something. Received opinion varies widely, depending upon which group is being investigated. For example, the received opinion about Vincent Van Gogh in the popular imagination is that his art looks the way it does entirely because of (what is thought to be known of) his state of mind. In such instances, received opinion usually arises without debate or reflection. This is less true of special interest groups. For example, within the art history community, the received opinion about Van Gogh would be more likely to take into account his artistic influences, current art theory, his religious upbringing, etc. Unless qualified in some way, “received opinion” usually connotes more of the former than the latter, and thus says something about the attitudes developed by posterity.

RECEIVER: In information theory, the audience or target towards which a communication is intended.

RED HERRING: Any diversion intended to distract attention from the main issue

REDUNDANCY: In information theory, the desirable repetition of the same message in different codes, so that the receiver can still get the message in spite of noise. (The same principle is behind the use of oversampling in compact disc players). In art, one might argue that form and content should harmonize in some way so that, say, expressive brushwork could convey the sense of unease as effectively as a particular choice of subject matter — especially important in an era when audiences seem increasingly unlikely to have had the education or inclination to recognize something specific about the latter. (For example, how many viewers of Anselm Kiefer’s paintings have really read any epic poetry about Shulamith and Margarethe? And how many readers of current art magazines have actually read all of Derrida’s Truth in Painting?) However, it is important not to lose sight of the idea that a lack of redundancy — that is, a supposed failure-contexts, the word simply means an undesirable repetition.

REFERENCE: Words are thought to take on meaning in a variety of ways. A common sense approach is that words have some sort of direct relation to the thing they signify, their referent, but only onomatopoeiaSaussurean semiotics, all words are thought to have meaning strictly because of the paradigms in which they find themselves and not because of some imagined reference to the world outside language. Genuine reference, in fact, is denied altogether, which is what makes it possible for deconstruction to exist. Peircean semiotics, in contrast, argues that an icon and an index have meanings determined by their relation to their referents: i.e., if the sign resembles the referent, it is an icon; if the sign has some existential relationship with the referent, it is an index. For Peirce, only the symbol has as purely arbitrary a relationship as that imagined by Saussure.

REFERENT: The thing (event, object, person, etc.) to which an icon, index, symbol or other signifierreference.

REFUSAL: Occasionally used as a near synonym of subversion. See, for example, Dick Hebdige’s of form and content to harmonize — could have a very desirable effect as well. In many other actually has anything like a direct relation. In refers. See Subculture: the Meaning of Style (1979).

REGIONALISM: Loyalty to the interests of a particular region

REIFICATION: The act of making something abstract into something concrete. In Marxist terminology, reification usually means treating human actions, characteristics and relations as if they were objective things with an independent existence. Religion, for example, is treated as something given to humankind, rather than created by it. In some Marxist writings, reification also means treating humans more or less as things without independent will, responding passively to the dictates of a world of objects. See false consciousness.

REINFORCEMENT: (psychology) a stimulus that strengthens or weakens the behaviour that produced it

RELATIVE: The opposite of absolute; that which has a connection to, dependence upon, or relation with something other than itself. In formal terminology, e.g., “relative scale” means the apparent size of a thing in a given context. An awareness of relative scale is especially important in slide lectures, which show students works of art as if they were all about the same size as the screen.

RELATIVISM: The philosophical doctrine that perceptions of things vary with circumstances, especially the social formation and its hypothetically infinite diversity, but also embracing most conceptions of subjectivity. The upshot of the idea is that there are no universal standards of such things as human nature, for the nature of the humans of one era or region have differed so fundamentally from that of another era or region that any attempt to prove human nature “A” more essential than human nature “B” will be little more than a statement of preference (see boo-hooray theory). There are various relativist approaches: Marxism, for example, would argue that meaning is dependent upon the class system at a particular point in time, whereas feminism might argue that meaning is dependent upon one’s gender. Postmodernism in general is relativistic in its denial of the existence of any standards of objective truth (see objectivity). Accordingly, some traditional artwriters see relativism as a threat to the very idea of humanistic education (see humanism). One such is E. H. Gombrich, who uses the phrase “cultural relativism” in Topics of Our Timeanalogyartwriting and the hypothetical objectivity of science. See also absolutism.

RELATIVITY: The quality of being relative and having significance only in relation to something else

RELAY: See anchorage and relay.

RELEVANCE: 1. Generally used to indicate practical usefulness and social applicability or responsibility, as in so-called politically correct demands for university courses that are “relevant” to marginal groups in society. 2. A more specific sense pertaining to informal logic, that in an argument a premise must increase the probability of the claim it is intended to support. For example, if the goal were only to demonstrate that Georgia O’Keeffe is internationally famous, it would be irrelevant to point out that she taught in Texas and Virginia. The latter point is true, but it contributes nothing to the claim. A multilingual, multinational bibliography would be considerably more relevant. See irrelevance.

RELIEF: Sculpture consisting of shapes carved on a surface so as to stand out from the surrounding background

REMINDS: A useful metaphor when considering meaning and validity of interpretation. Anyone can say “that person to describe the danger inherent in, for example, the assumption that a German physics will differ inherently from a Jewish physics. His objection, however, simply indicates that he believes there is still a valid to be drawn between reminds me of so and so,” and the statement cannot be logically evaluated because reminding is often quite irrational. Moreover, that the statement is made at all is evidence that it is true, unless the speaker is deliberately misleading the listener. In contrast, the statement “this person looks like so and so” can be evaluated according to relatively objective criteria, like actual measurements of the features, body types, bone structure, etc. One measure of an interpretation’s validity might be the degree to which the object “reminds” or “looks like” something for the artwriter. See interpretatio excedens, meaning in and meaning to, read into.RENAISSANCE: The period of European history at the close of the Middle Ages and the rise of the modern world; a cultural rebirth from the 14th through the middle of the 17th centuries

REPETITION: The repeated use of the same word or word pattern as a rhetorical device

REPORT-TALK: Deborah Tannen characterized male speech patterns as delivering information in the manner of a report, whereas female speech patterns are less so, aimed more at personal intimacy in the manner of establishing a rapport. Her conclusion is that language is inevitably caught up in what she calls genderlect (i.e., gender-based, socialized language characteristics). A useful slide show about these ideas is available at Genderlect Styles of Deborah Tannen

REPOUSSOIR: “Repoussoir” is based on the French verb répousser, which means “to push back.” A repoussoir, whether it is a person or an object, is placed usually in the margins of the foreground and often shadowed so as not to draw too much attention to itself. Sitting at the margin, it implies the viewer’s position outside the space of the painting. In the other direction, the scene of the painting, usually in brighter light, is “pushed back,” in effect. The repoussoir is therefore first and foremost a formal device for creating an impression of space. Occasionally repoussoirs have a narrative or symbolic function too, but it isn’t their defining role. The figures standing at the lower left of Velázquez’s Surrender of Breda and those at the lower right of David’s Coronation of Napoléon function in part as repoussoirs.

REPRESENTATION: An activity that stands as an equivalent of something or results in an equivalent

REREDOS: An altarpiece. A painted or carved screen placed above and behind an altar or communion table

: Sometimess also called “reserve light,” in watercolour painting, an area of untouched paper, usually white, which functions as a highlight relative to the colour areas around it.

RESIST: Elude, especially in a baffling way

RESOLUTION: A statement that solves a problem or explains how to solve the problem

RETARDATAIRE: The perpetuation of styles and motifs after they have passed out of fashion, often used pejoratively.

RETINAL: Visual; pertaining to the sensory membrane in the eye that receives imagery focused by the lens, communicating with the brain via the optic nerve. Marcel Duchamp’s famous turn to a more conceptual type of art was precipitated by his resentment of the popular conception of artists as merely retinal beings (that is, that they were interested only in vision and not in ideas).

RETINAL LAG: The amount of time required by receptors in the retina to recover from a stimulation. If recovery were instantaneous, motion pictures and the phi phenomenon could not be experienced as continuous movement. See also afterimage, persistence of vision.

RE-VISION: Hyphenated word intended to put a postmodern spin on the conventional word “revision.” Unlike some hyphenated neologisms which successfully draw attention to radically suppressed word origins, this one adds little, raising the question of whether or not hyphenation is a useful critical tool or a superficial fashion. (It is probably both.) Adrienne Rich appears to have invented the term, but it is now used everywhere. See, for example, Howard Smagula’s anthology of theory and criticism entitled Re-Visions.

REWRITE RULES: See generative-transformational.

RHIZOME: A root-like plant stem that usually travels horizontally, producing buds above ground and roots below. In the writings of Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, the term is used as a metaphor for an epistemology (and/or simple intellectual curiosity) that spreads in any number of directions, without the usual academic or disciplinary straightjackets requiring it to travel in a pre-ordained direction. Any truly democratic type of multiculturalism must involve something along this line.

RIGHT AND WRONG INTERPRETATIONS: See plausibility, testability, and validity.

RISING ACTION: See complication.

RITUALISTIC: Of or characterized by or adhering to ritualism

ROCOCO: A term of disapprobation when first coined, “rococo” describes the last gasp of the baroque, especially in the eighteenth century in France. In choice of subjects, it emphasized what seem now to have been the unreflective and indulgent lifestyles of the aristocracy rather than piety, morality, self-discipline, reason, and heroism (all of which can be found in the baroque). Rococo form is characterized by delicacy of colour, dynamic compositions, and atmospheric effects. Because there is a tendency to preciosity and frivolousness (although this reputation over-simplifies what was going on), one might think of the rococo as “baroque-lite.”

ROLE-PLAYING: Increasingly popular approach to parody, in which the artist acts out the part of some cultural stereotype by mimicking it ironically. Cindy Sherman’s work involves a good deal of this in a generic form. It is much more specific in Canada, with Vincent Trasov running for mayor of Vancouver as Mr. Peanut, Tanya Mars portraying Mae West in the performance video Pure Sin, etc.

ROMANTICISM: ArtLex gives the following, along with numerous thumbnailed examples. “Romanticism, and the Romantic school - A style of art that flourished in the early nineteenth century. It emphasized the emotions painted in a bold, dramatic manner. Romantic artists rejected the cool reasoning of classicism — the established art of the times — to paint pictures of nature in its untamed state, or other exotic settings filled with dramatic action, often with an emphasis on the past. Classicism was nostalgic too, but Romantics were more emotional, usually melancholic, even melodramatically tragic. Paintings by members of the French Romantic school include those by Théodore Géricault (French, 1791-1824) and Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863), filled with rich color, energetic brushwork, and dramatic and emotive subject matter. In England the Romantic tradition began with Henry Fuseli (Swiss-English, 1741-1825) and William Blake (1757-1827), and culminated with Joseph M. W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable (1776-1837). The German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) produced images of solitary figures placed in lonely settings amidst ruins, cemeteries, frozen, watery, or rocky wastes. And in Spain, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) depicted the horrors of war along with aristocratic portraits.”