Visual Studies Project: a Book Accessible through Multiple Senses

I did this book-making project as my final project for the course, Intro to Visual Studies, taught by Professor John Muse last fall semester. We were asked to create a project based on the readings that we had gone through in class and I was particularly interested in Vivian Sobchack’s article, What My Fingers Knew, on how our carnal senses, in addition to vision, involve in our experience with cinema and metaphors.

My line of inquiry is to explore “all senses” of the word and all senses of “the word” from Sobchack not only “literally” and “figurally,” but also physically by providing a book that stimulates different senses. According to Sobchack, “on-screen food” is “presented rather than represented”; my project is, therefore, to unfold the literal presentation of words and images and to even add a portal for not only literal experiences of the words but also physical ones. I would like to see how the additional portal influences the way we accept words.

To better understand all senses of “the word,” I looked into Metaphors We Live By for specific metaphors of words. I was interested in looking for means that languages use to describe themselves, in other words, “our language about language.” Three out of total five metaphors come from the conceptual metaphor of “words being containers”: “The speaker puts ideas (objects) into words (containers) and sends them (along a conduit) to a hearer who takes the idea/objects out of the word/containers.” This explanation treats words as signifiers that mediate meaning transferring it from one person to the other. However, it fails to recognize that words are both signifiers and signifieds, which according to Sobchack, “emerge in a reciprocal and reversible structure.” Therefore, I looked for more general metaphors of containers and how they come from our bodily experiences with the world: “Each of us is a container, with a bounding surface and an in-out orientation. We project our own in-out orientation onto other physical objects that are bounded by surfaces. Bounded objects […] have sizes. This allows them to be quantified in terms of the amount of substance they contain.”

In this sense, I depicted words with specific forms and boundaries, like the circle on the first page for the metaphor “words are hollow.” The physical empty space evokes the literal bodily experiences of hollowness but at the same time the empty circle only acts as an abstract and condensed mediation of our concrete feelings with the words. Personally, the sense of hollowness and emptiness involves also touching apart from seeing: we can extend our hands into our pockets feeling its emptiness without seeing. Thus, by cutting out an empty circle, the emptiness is accessible both to vision and tactile senses. For further improvement, I am thinking of giving the hole some volume so it works as a pipe in some way. When one blows air into the pipe, the sound will indicate its hollowness. I wonder if offering physical portals through distinct senses beyond the literal words adds new bodily experiences that modifies and builds on the experiences we already have with the words.

In addition, I wonder if offering a personal presentation of the metaphor literally brings up new metaphors. Metaphors We Live By claims that the conceptual metaphor “words as containers […] entails that words and sentences have meaning in themselves, independent of any context of speaker.” However, from class presentations, I feel that my personal interpretation of the metaphors in a physical way leads the readers to conceive new metaphors for themselves from the interaction with the book. Therefore, the connection between context and words is much more complicated. Through physically and literally feeling the words, we give them context, a network of bodily experiences, which enriches both their figural and literal meaning.

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