Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pg. 99: Barbara Maria Stafford's "Echo Objects"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Barbara Maria Stafford's Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images.

About the book, from the publisher:

Barbara Stafford is at the forefront of a growing movement that calls for the humanities to confront the brain’s material realities. In Echo Objects she argues that humanists should seize upon the exciting neuroscientific discoveries that are illuminating the underpinnings of cultural objects. In turn, she contends, brain scientists could enrich their investigations of mental activity by incorporating phenomenological considerations — particularly the intricate ways that images focus intentional behavior and allow us to feel thought.

This, then, is a book for both sides of the aisle, a stunningly broad exploration of how complex images — or patterns that compress space and time — make visible the invisible ordering of human consciousness. Stafford demonstrates, for example, how the compound formats of emblems, symbols, collage, and electronic media reveal the brain’s grappling to construct mental objects that are redoubled by prior associations. On the other hand, she compellingly shows that findings in evolutionary biology and the neurosciences are providing profound opportunities for understanding aesthetic conundrums as old and deep-seated as the human urge to imitate, the mapping of inner space, and the role of narrative and nonnarrative representation.

As precise in her discussions of firing neurons as she is about the coordinating dynamics of image making, Stafford locates these major transdisciplinary issues at the intersection of art, science, philosophy, and technology. Ultimately, she makes an impassioned plea for a common purpose — for the acknowledgement that, at the most basic level, these separate projects belong to a single investigation.

Among the praise for Echo Objects:
Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images, is a spectacular effort of thinking outside discipline boundaries, a sort of interdenominational bible of arts and neuroscience. It is all the more remarkable since the book appears to have required no effort at all, so smoothly and seamlessly it flows from Barbara Stafford’s well-informed mind and dizzying pen.”
--Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error, Looking for Spinoza, and The Feeling of What Happens

Echo Objects is an erudite, sophisticated, pioneering exploration of the ways in which modern neuroscience illuminates the world of images, and of the insights that careful, critical analysis of images can provide to neuroscience. It makes many compelling observations, and opens up numerous questions for further investigation and debate.”
--William J. Mitchell, author of Placing Words: Symbols, Space, and the City

“Inspiring and rewarding, Echo Objects displays great learning and an uncommon ability to straddle genres and disciplines, often to kaleidoscopic effect. At the center of all that colorful flux lies Barbara Stafford’s acute critical intelligence, snuggled like a sniper in a jungle. Cognitive scientists, as well as those working in the arts and humanities, have much to learn from this unique and thought-provoking work.”
--Andy Clark, author of Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence

Echo Objects argues vigorously for a new understanding of images: one that regards them not simply as products of mental operations but as constitutive of such operations and cognitive processes. This book bristles with ideas and innovative connections that draw together cultural, material, and biological analyses of thought and cognition to prod the reader into rethinking the uses and significance of images. Echo Objects is a book to wrestle and argue with. It will draw each reader into a conversation that will prove important, and for many transformative — a conversation that goes to the heart of the importance of the arts and humanities and to the role they play in understanding science, cognition, and images themselves.”
--James J. Bono, author of The Word of God and the Languages of Man
Barbara Maria Stafford is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Her many other publications and projects include the books Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting, Good Looking: Essays on the Virtue of Images, Artful Science: Enlightenment, Entertainment and the Eclipse of Visual Education, Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine, and Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760-1840.

The Page 99 Test: Echo Objects.

--Marshal Zeringue