From a drawing
now in London (British Museum L. 257), 1515. Reprinted in and courtesy
of The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, ed. Willi Kurth
(New York: Dover, 1963).
The Dürer Woodcut:
What is fascinating about this image, and the
reason why I chose it for my home page, is that Dürer had never
himself seen a rhinocerus. The woodcut is instead based on a sketch
he had once seen and on descriptions of the animal in a letter Dürer
received from Lisbon. The image therefore exemplifies the disconnect
that necessarily exists between reality and representation. In this
version, Dürer clearly gets certain details wrong but could it
be that the image thus exemplifies a fact about representation in general?
Poststructuralists, postmodernists, Lacanian psychoanalysts, many feminists,
and certain Marxist theorists of ideology would argue that all representation
is, by its very nature, at one step removed, even incommensurable with
what Lacan for example terms the real. Our very reliance on language
is so great, such theorists argue, that it allows us to see only what
we can re-present in words or images. In this sense, language could
be said to construct the very world we perceive, which is why many contemporary
theorists argue that ideology is so powerful: because of man's reliance
on representation (especially language), ideology could be said literally
to make us what we are and to make the world in our image.
My thanks to Richard Dienst for alerting me to