After playing with Wordle (see these two posts), I wanted to use a Wordle word cloud of a blog post as the title of that post, only to quickly realize that I can’t. WordPress assumes that titles will be composed of alphanumeric text rather than non-textual images. WordPress, of course, isn’t alone in this assumption. Consider, for instance, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album
KMFDM’s tenth album
and Prince’s fourteenth album
Each album was released without a conventinal alphanumeric title. While I understand the need for words in spoken contexts, I find it interesting that in this context we force the constraints of the oral onto visual space. Reflecting this, Atlantic Records catalogs the Zeppelin album as either Four Symbols ( ) or The Fourth Album. Likewise, the KMFDM album is cataloged as Symbols. (On their web site, KMFDM has also referred to the album as Anger. The difference between the WaxTrax’s and KMFDM’s naming of the album almost certainly reflects KMFDM’s convention (at the time) of five letter titles on their albums). As for the Prince album, I’ll just repeat here what Wikipedia says, which is that the album is “colloquially referred to as the Love Symbol album.”
All this leads me to ask, if we’re going to be serious about composing with images as well as with words, especially in digital environments, and if I’m going to take seriously the idea of mnemonic images as the res of a text (the sense or “thing” of the text), then oughtn’t we take seriously the idea of images as titles? Good titles, after all, function as res of a text, as a mnemonic for that text.
And that question leads me to another question: what kinds of images would make good titles? After all, it’s a commonplace in our culture to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so shouldn’t any kind of image work? (Walter Ong, for what it’s worth, liked to respond to that maxim with something like “if a picture is worth a thousand words, why did you use words to say that?” Note that this isn’t a direct quotation but a reconstruction from memory.)
While we might look to these three albums as moves towards image titles, they’re not overly revolutionary despite the problems they cause the recording industry (and us) in referring to them. The Zeppelin album title uses four sigils (three existing and one created up by Jimmy Page, the KMFDM album uses five dingbats, and the Prince album uses a sigil or sigil-like symbol. While each of these titles are considered unpronounceable, they consist of or are intentionally reminiscent of chirographic or typographic symbols.
The cover of Metallica’s fifth album, I think, would be a better example of an image title (note the hard to see coiled snake in the lower right corner)
I don’t know the history of the naming of this album, but I do know that it’s referred to as the Metallica album or The Black Album. While the coiled snake on a black background seems to be a good image title for the album, the album’s conventional textual titles ignore the snake altogether.
Turning from album covers to book covers for examples, three specific books come to mind: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages, Mary Carruthers and Jan M. Ziolkowski’s The Medieval Craft of Memory: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, Gregory Ulmer’s Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. I’m asking myself what if we took the textual information off these covers? What if their images were their titles?
The image on Cohen‘s Of Giants, Arthur beheads the giant of Mont Saint Michel, comes from Bibliothèue Municipale de Douai, MS 880, f.66. The image invokes monsters, particularly giants, and the middle ages, but one could be forgiven for thinking it was about Arthurian monsters, and, quite frankly, for me at least, the image doesn’t invoke the issues of masculinity the book engages.
The image on Carruthers and Ziolkowski’s The Medieval Craft of Memory is the fourth image of Luke from a blockbook Ars memorandi dating from around 1470 (veiwable online thanks to the Library of Congress). For me, at least, this image works much better as an image title because it is an example rather than a symbolic representation of the medieval craft of memory. In saying this, however, I must acknowledge that this image has over the years become my mnemonic image for the medieval craft of memory so it may just be me. For someone familiar with Christian iconography, this image might invoke the Gospels or even the Gospel of Luke rather than mnemocraft. And I’m really not sure what this image would invoke for someone unfamiliar with mnemocraft or Christian iconography.
In many ways the image on Ulmer‘s Heuretics, which is a collage, may best represent an image title. As a collage, it is made up of a number of images of Gary Cooper from the movie Morocco (some digitally altered), a computer displaying the image of Gary Cooper, and a screen shot of a hypertextual space, presumably the CD-ROM Columbus: Encounter, Discovery, and Beyond (a multicultural experience). To understand how all of these images work together and represent Heuretics, however, one must have read Heuretics.
In other words, I’m not sure how well these image titles work as titles, as the res of their respective texts, and that brings me back to Ong’s response to the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words. What each of these examples of cover art (to use their official term) demonstrate are the limits of image as titles, at least to one throughly habituated to the (Western) logic of print. At best, it seems, these three books, especially Ulmer’s, demonstrate the potential for an imageword as a title. By this I mean we should stop regarding the title as title and the image as “cover art” but take the two as a combined unit of meaning.
All that said, I’m not discounting the use of images as titles. It’s something that we need to explore, if only to understand its limits if not its promises. And while it is very much a textual image, I’ll give you the title of this post, the title WordPress won’t let me use: