Review Cultures of Vision: Images, the Media, and the Imaginary
Perhaps most problematic for this reviewer is Burnett's overall neglect of computers or computer-related topics. His chapter on postmodern media communities never mentions the World Wide Web, he discusses digitized images in only the most general terms, and although he exhibits an awareness of hypertext, he does not seem to have explored hypertext in detail, as evidenced by the following two excerpts.

In the first, Burnett describes hypertext as inferior to vision and consciousness, both of which he considers to be self-organizing and thus flexible. He believes that,

[T]his concept [hypertext], which aficionados of computerized technologies see as a liberating jump from linearity, is dependent upon fixed categories which an interpreter moves around in an infinite number of ways. In speaking about vision, we are dealing with a structure that defies patterns of organization because it is constantly in motion and nevertheless remains functional(27).
The second is taken from a passage in which Burnett has described the associative interpretive process that the examination of a photograph engenders. He finds that a "web of meanings comes into existence, a hypertextual and thus three dimensional confluence of significations, all of which are triggers for further exploration....In a sense, the Casby photograph becomes the 'starred' text of S/Z , except that I would take the process even further, which is why I use the term hypertext "(49). It is unclear from the text whether Burnett recognizes a connection between hypertext and the interpretive processes he advocates. He uses the term "hyperchange" to describe the rapid, linear, exponential, discontinuous, and chaotic workings of today's society. Hyperchange allows no time for evaluation, interpretation. In a postmodern state, culture and community become one and the same. Links must be constructed and a space for interpretation appears. This seems to be similar to what Burnett advocates as an evolutionary strategy for interpreting images, yet he terms this one example of the problems of viewing the world as text--that points of entry into cultural analysis will be, of necessity, arbitrary and dependent on how we view structures and relationships (290).

In the final pages Burnett mentions computers several times, but his reasons for doing so are not always clear. He is apparently intrigued by the notion that wordprocessing is ultimately an image-based operation--"I find it ironic that the computer makes use of a video screen and that multimedia is the combination of video technology and computerized signaling. A paradox because the processes involved are always image based" (331).

In the final paragraphs he notes that distinctions between all types of media may be becoming dysfunctional. He uses this collapsing of forms as an excuse for saying that "in that sense, there can be no conclusion to this book, because, as with electronic mail, there seems to be more and more reason to continue writing" (334). This statement, in or out of context, makes little sense. He then notes that his "printed words are themselves one of the best ways of seeing and also an excellent strategy for challenging the idea that the imaginary can ever be enclosed in the various technologies that any culture creates" (334). The reader hardly knows how to take this apparent reversal after the many charges of inadequacy Burnett has brought against language in the preceeding pages.

Likewise, one wonders why Burnett has waited until the final paragraph to propose that, with hypertext, we have the potential to break down boundaries that have traditionally existed between text and image. His final words, that "no amount of sophistication to the various technological surrogates that our culture inventes will drain the imaginary of its flexibility to reinvent not only itself but the human subjects who nurture and are nurtured by its creativity and energy" (335), also seem only vaguely connected to those which have come before. They leave the reader wondering what point or points Burnett was trying to make in the final pages--that the distinctions he spent most of the text elaborating were becoming irrelevant, that technology would not supress human imagination--it is difficult to say.

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