Just as speech and writing, the image can be a vehicle for all types of power and resistance. The train of thought it develops offers a specific matter, as dense as that of writing but often irreducible to it, and as such hardly facilitates the task of the historian who is constrained to superimpose words on the unutterable. This book however will not linger on the paths of figurative thought, nor more classically on art and stylistic history, nor even on the contents of images. Instead, this study will focus more on examining the programs and politics of the image, the multiple forms of resistance that the image causes and anticipates, and the roles that it takes on in a multicultural society.
But this process will lead us to open up the imaginaires that arise at the intersection of expectations and answers, the crossing of sensitivity and interpretation, the meeting of the fascination and the attachment the image can provoke. By favoring the imaginaire as a whole and in its fluidity (which is also the fluidity of real life), I have given up beginning an overly systematic description of the image and its context, for fear of losing sight of a reality that exists only through their interaction. And I have tried to resist, wherever possible, the usual avatars of a dualistic (signifier/signified, form/content) and compartmentalized (economic, social, religious, political, aesthetic) way of thinking whose overly utilitarian outlines manage to imprison more than they explain. Perhaps in any case, it is one of the virtues of historical inquiry to be able to demonstrate how much the categories and classifications that we apply to the image long have been inherent to a scholarly understanding tinged by Aristotelian and Renaissance thought, but whose historical roots and pretended universality are not always perceptible.
Serge Gruzinsky, Images at War: Mexico from Columbus to Blade Runner (1492 – 2019), translated by Heather Maclean, Duke University Press, 2001, 3-4.