Julie R. Klein

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20052006 Forum on Word and Image

Julie R. Klein

Villanova, Associate Professor, Philosophy

Words and Images: Towards a Materialist Account

Prof. Klein investigates Spinoza's thought as a pre-Kantian example of Philosophy's effort to articulate what lies beyond conceptual representation, transcendental subjectivity, and the opposition of freedom and nature. Taking a broadly materialist approach, she focuses on Spinoza's critique of language and his account of the force of images, which includes a detailed account of their structure and how words and images arise and interact. Following Adorno and Freud, Dr. Klein plans to analyze what is disclosed in aesthetic experience to socio-political concerns. 


In Spinoza's view, images are impressions in the body, which register in our awareness as corporeal force or impact, ideas, and affects. Words are images of images, i.e., reports of experience. Where experience is singular and fluid, language abstracts and universalizes, amalgamating individuals in classes and categories. Images, records of a body's fluid communication and interaction with other bodies, are confused, but as actual impressions, they may be taken up in terms of their causal, i.e., rational, structure. Both words and imaginative ideas constitute actualities or habits in human individuals. Thus, what Spinoza calls prejudice is the accumulated force of words and confused ideas. The work of philosophy is to investigate the hold of such ideas, thereby displacing them.