Sound-Image Relationships in Literature

2 Text in Image / Image in Text

From Greek antiquity to the Baroque, the identity of the external form of the text with the object described in it was a commonly practiced technique, known as pattern poetry or visual poetry, found in both religious and secular occasional poems. Crosses and chalices, but also crowns, hearts, and pyramids, formed part of the arsenal of an ideogrammatic esthetic, confident that objects could be depicted in texts. It was called into question somewhat in Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy (1759) by the use of blank or marbled pages, spidery scrawling, and imaginary beauty lines.[11]

Such liberated forms of text remained marginal until well into the nineteenth century. If Romantic literature, especially, may have been said to pose a challenge to write in a musical way, the ten double-page spreads of Mallarmé’s posthumously published long poem Un coup de dés (A Throw of the Dice; first published in 1897) launched a complete reorientation of the relationship of text and image, in part in connection with music.[12] The text is intended as a complex, multidimensional range of readings; even apparently central terms such as maître (master) and naufrage (shipwreck) no longer offer any semantic security.

Surrealism, Cubism, and Dadaism took up this inspiration, at times with parodic or explicitly political tendencies. Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, from 1914 and after, represent a type of depiction in which the letters form the outline of the object described but at the same time call this into question.[13] Ever since, the pattern poem—employed by Ernst Jandl and Gerhard Rühm, for example, in parallel with the sound poem—has accompanied and criticized the ambitions of ways of thinking in high culture. Therein lies its enormous potential for advertising and everyday communication as well as for (school) readers and creative writing.[14]

In the opposite direction, literary references to scenes from paintings, theater, or film have increased since the turn of the twentieth century. For Heinrich Mann and Thomas Mann and their generation, they could be used as evidence for the illusory nature of the world, in the Christian sense; its character as low comedy; or later, under the influence of film, for its potential for dramatization. It remained indisputable, however, that the nonliterary medium was supposed to be an art citation[15] or an illustration but not an intermedial provocation of the true impetus to depict.[16] The situation was different with evocations of art objects, usually in poetry, such as Rilke’s Dinggedichte (object poems), which used description to reach through to a substance that could not be experienced except through poetry. In the epiphany obtained in this way, aspects of the theory of reception and the religion of art coincide: despite occasionally extremely detailed depictions, the real objects are merely stopovers to a higher subject. Das Füllhorn (The Cornucopia) of 1926, which on first glance appears to stand in the tradition of the Baroque, outlines the Schwung und Form des gebendsten Gefäßes (curve and form of the most giving vessel) in the viewer’s act of perceiving it.[17] The poetic still life, with its attention to the quotidian and unspectacular, resembles a trend in contemporary poetry in German to affirm the materiality of the text itself.[18]