Textual Poetics

visual poetics The subfield Textual Poetics encompasses research into the manifold and changing artistic and discursive attitudes towards text, language and narrativity. Inquiries ranging under this rubric proceed in several complementary directions. Attention goes to traditional textual and narrative principles (such as causality, linearity, plot) that structure both theatre and film productions.
Conversely, analyses of contemporary performance practices aim to chart the altered status of the text and the concomitant expansion of textual parameters with principles originally proper to the visual (such as juxtaposition or landscape). The research interest in Textual Poetics finally also results in metatheoretical questions dealing with rhetoric strategies in theory production, hermeneutic methodologies and productive tensions between textual discourse and artistic praxis.


The focus of Visual Poetics on aspects of textuality in performance and film intends to balance the literary background of the research group with current developments in the practice and theory of theatre and film, as well as with achievements within the field of visual studies whose emergence followed the ‘pictorial turn’ that took place in the human sciences from the 1990s onwards. Whereas the text, both metaphorically (as a model for understanding and analysis) and literally (as the concrete written word), has maintained a prominent position in Western societies for several centuries, our present highly mediatized and predominantly visual culture has invalidated this privileging of the textual leading instead to a primary emphasis on (if not a certain cult of) the image.
While Visual Poetics evidently concurs with the increased interest in the properties of visual regimes (historically as well as contemporary), the research group does hold the conviction that the linguistic legacy unavoidably infiltrates into the workings of the image while in more recent times the scope of semiotics is being broadened through the visual as well. With regard to the arts, it became evident how mimetic realism as well as self-contained, linear narratives with a clear causal logic did not suffice anymore to capture the complexities of a technologized society in which velocity, global networks and visual omnipresence radically altered the experience of everyday reality.
While the text consequently lost its primordial representational function, it was and continues to remain an important artistic means that, in addition to the mere communication of meaning, became valorized for its materiality (sound, voice, speech), its poetic potentialities (evocative rather than descriptive) and its pictorial qualities (words and text as image).
Visual Poetics not only aims to chart this evolution, but also to explore the possibilities it entails for developing an alternative hermeneutics that starts from the dialectic interactions between semiotics and aesthetics.

Research Topics

The fundamental reciprocity between the visual and the textual is investigated in various inter- and intradisciplinary projects currently carried out within the Visual Poetics research group. Three major key areas can be discerned in this regard. A first important focal point is the construction and organization of narrative structures in film and performance.
Particular attention goes to 1910s and 1920s early cinema and how it adopts compositional principles of representational painting as well as the dramaturgy of 19th century bourgeois theatre to structure the filmic narrative, but also to the ways in which new media and intermedial dynamics in visual arts and contemporary performance redefine and expand on traditional narratological parameters.
Secondly, research focuses on the concrete and various functions that text fulfills in artistic practices, which includes the analysis of director’s notebooks and its influence on decisions in the creation process; different adaptations of particular source texts in silent film; the use of archive material in re-enactments of dance and performance art pieces; and the altered status of textual elements in post-dramatic theatre.
A third area studies the textual discourse surrounding the arts. Among its subjects are the current and compromised situation of dance and art criticism; early French film theory and its parallels with Critical Theory; and repeated debates concerning theatre repertoire and their impact on broader societal processes (such as the construction of national identities and the organization of governmental subsidy systems).
How to quote: De Laet, Timmy. "Textual Poetics." Research Centre for Visual Poetics. Universiteit Antwerpen, May 2012. Web. (Date of access)