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:
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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 this image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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