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Apr 7 2023

Operative Ekphrasis: The Dissolution of the Text-Image Distinction in Multimodal AI

April 7, 2023

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM


The relationship between text and image has been a longstanding concern of aesthetic theory. On the one
hand, it has invited strong formalist calls for their separation as entirely distinct media whose aesthetic
integrity requires that they be kept separate; on the other hand, such dreams of purity have been rebuked as
misguided because “there are no visual media” (W.J.T. Mitchell). This talk proposes that state-of-the-art
instances of “multimodal AI” both complicate the relationship between text and image and help us to rethink
it. Multimodal AI – particularly text-to-image machine learning systems like Dall-E 2 or Stable Diffusion –
collapses the distinction between text and image by circumventing this separation altogether; at the same
time, it brings both mediums into a new performative constellation: language here produces images in a
process of “operative ekphrasis” that is distinct from older, strictly algorithmic techniques. The talk develops
this concept by way of examples from visual poetry; argues for a new role of language in our digital present;
and shows how new technologies both require conceptual analysis and can themselves serve as catalysts for
conceptual innovation.


Susanne Rott

Date posted

Jan 17, 2023

Date updated

Jan 17, 2023