PRINT January 1996


W. J. T. Mitchell’s Picture Theory

. . . confusing all the traditional divisions of labor.

—W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory

PICTURE THEORY IS ABOUT the invasion of image by text and of text by image in post-World War II American culture. It is also a book that conspicuously exemplifies what it talks about. W. J. T. Mitchell was originally trained at Johns Hopkins University, in what was at that time a conservative English department focusing on canonical works of English literature with a small admixture of American literature. Like many university people working in the humanities today, Mitchell is more or less self-taught in what he now most cares about doing. Though he is professor of both art and English literature at the University of Chicago, he is not doing quite what his Ph.D. authorized him to do.

Picture Theory is a prolonged investigation, by way of many diverse examples, of what Mitchell calls the “imagetext.”

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