Charismatic Fauna

Sanford Kwinter

There is an old adage within the (particularly pre-digital) graphic design world that refers to the conundrum of integrating poor quality or insipid images into an effective display: “when in doubt, blow it up.” If an image is unworkably deficient at one scale, enlarging it does not simply mask the defect but eradicates it entirely by activating a wholly different set of values that emerge only at the amplified scale.

In sum it is no longer the same image, its semantics no longer derive from the “mise en scène” of the common act playing out literally within its frame, but are generated now from the rhythms, lines, colors, and the incidents of transition and movement that it now brings to the foreground. It is not that the base or first order meaning is no longer present, but rather that its meaning is invoked now rather than flatly displayed, set into vibration in its full ostranenie (defamiliarization) effects, a thing at once familiar and yet inalienably startling and new. In the expansion process an element of abstraction and unprecedentedness is released, as meaning and use become open, referrable to new and unforseen conjugations and domains. The act of amplification is often a poesis, a magical operation that transforms and hints at alternative logics and life forms. Amplification is hence close to a radical carnivalesque, seen nowhere more humorously or effectively than in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, a work whose profound social impact had everything to do with its free and exaggerated deployment of human bodily functions and drives, the very thing so deeply stifled today in nearly all modern technological approaches to nature. Almost all hypertrophy in our semantic tradition has its roots in an affirmation of growth and change, in the processes of organic life—in a word, in the affirmation of metabolism.

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