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Double Exposures The Subject Of Cultural Analysis
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The Subject of Cultural Analysis



Das Gesicht an der Wand




Published in 1996 by
270 Madison Ave,
New York NY 10016
Published in Great Britain in 1996 by
2 Park Square, Milton Park,
Abingdon, Oxon, 0X14 4RN
Transferred to Digital Printing 2010
Copyright 1996 by Routledge, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or
other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bal, Mieke, 1946Double Exposures : the subject of cultural analysis.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-415-91703-4 (he). ISBN 0-415-91704-2 (pbk.)
1. Culture. 2. Communication and culture. 3. MuseumsExhibitions. 4. MuseumsSocial aspects. I. Title.
HM101.B433 1996

Designed and typeset by Leslie Sharpe

with Hermann Feldhaus at Cave.
Publisher's Note
The publisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the quality of this reprint
but points out that some imperfections in the original may be apparent.










in which the threshold between two worlds is more telling than

the division between the two sides of New York's Central Park,
and words expose images exposing words
Setting as Image, Nature as Sign Who Is Speaking? Asian
Mammals: The Politics of Transition The Contest between Time
and Space: Evolution and Taxonomy Circular Epistemology In
the Beginning Was the Word Picking Up Crumbs Notes


in which issues of ownership and preservation reveal a first-person

narrator, and literary theory is brought in to learn the foreign language
spoken in museums; and in which the distinction between types of museums
turns out to be more than just labeling
m The Medusa Effect Discourses of Ownership and Conservation For Goodness' Sake Repetition and Metaphor On
Distinction Difficulties of Looking and the Need to Read




in which one image reads another by hanging next to it, and in which
parrots can speak without imitating; hut this requires that discourse be
liberated from the stronghold of linguistic supremacy
Reading the Handwriting on the Wall Museology versus
Museums Speaking Spaces: Reading Rooms Word and
Image Are But/Not One: Reading Walls Reading Walls:
Second Episode Allegorical Museology Notes



in which conversations lead to monologues and authority makes sense,

so that museology becomes a measure for cultural analysis
The Discourse of Museum Discourse Artspeak Art Apart
Situatedness Showing Your Hand Notes



in which the best scholarship gets entangled in a narrative of display

in its very attempts to avoid such discourses, but where unknotting
those knots turns out to be worthwhile
Narrative under Suspicion Telling Stories Is Harder Than You
Think The "New" Epistemology Narrative and Epistemology
Second Person? Notes


in which postcards, undeliverable for lack of a recent address,

can still be returned to sender
Playing Games "Beauty" and the Critical Project Showcase
The Subject of Eroticism De-Distancing Looking for Naughty
Boys Pimp versus Client Return to Sender Notes




in which lessons about reading metaphor against simplification

are practiced to save Lucretia's (after)Hfe, and the struggle
to find words to fit images provides a model of integrative display
The Practice of Theory Rape, Suicide, Signs, and Show
Contagious Logorrhea: Between Men Vision Vying Violence:
Between Women Expository Writing Notes



in which it turns out not all modern men heed Shakespeare's will,

to the detriment of their own enjoyment; but some do, and thus
teach cultural analysis about its subject
A Vision That Is Not (One) Portrait of the Expert as an Old
Man Vision against Vision The Interests of Realism The
Master's Piece The Women Talk (Back) Self-reflection:
Exposing Modes of Vision Notes



in which "Judith" demonstrates that epistemology is not the

prerogative ofphilosophers, and images will point out,
for the last time, what can be shown, and what cannot
The Missing Head Epistemic Risks and Gentileschi Vision
and Narrative as Epistemologies "Judith" as Epistemology,
Gentileschi as Philosopher Laying Bare Notes






his book could not have been

written without stimulating and inspiring intellectual exchange with an increasing number of friends and colleagues, too many to enumerate. Many of them
are present in the notes and references.
The Universite de Paris IIISorbonne Nouvelle hosted m e for a semester
that was crucial in the development of this project. Thanks also to the French
department of Columbia University for an invitation to hold the Lurcy Chair
in 1994, which allowed m e to test the material for this book with the best

interdisciplinary group of students one can imagine. I am grateful to the

Rockefeller Foundation for a residency grant at the Bellagio Center.
The department of General Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam
has been an ideal friendly environment, as was the program of Visual and
Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester, which offered a wonderful
complementary context. During the last stages, the Amsterdam School of
Cultural Analysis (ASCA), a research community to whose goals and vision I
have tried to do justice in this book, has both stimulated me (intellectually) and
slowed me down (in practice). This book's and ASCA's existence have been
mutually indispensable.
The help of Anya Bernstein was invaluable. She proofread the book many
times and gave advice from her perspective as a native speaker of English and a
smart undergraduate student, a representative of the audience I had in mind
while writing this book.
Edwin Janssen made a work, reproduced here, to accompany my text with
a visual version of the ideas. His work adds an invaluable new dimension to my
arguments. It replaces the more conventional illustrations, undermining the
illusion of veracity and emphasizing the notion that a scholarly work like this
one is also based on a "private collection" of images.
My lasting gratitude is to Ernst van Alphen, for enduring stimulation, criticism, and many m u s e u m visits.

DAs GESICHT AN DER WAND (The face/stain on the wall)

Edwin Janssen, 1995


1. Page 21
Floorplan of the American Museum
of Natural History, New York
(information flyer, ed. 1991).
2. Page 23
Queen Maya giving birth to the
Buddha from her side, Hall of Asian
Mammals, American M u s e u m of
Natural History. Photo: Mieke Bal.

3. Page 27
Approaches to the Hall of Asian
Peoples, American M u s e u m of
Natural History. Photo: Mieke Bal.
Dog sacrifice, Hall of Asian Peoples,
American M u s e u m of Natural
History. Photo: Mieke Bal.
4. Page 34
Panel of m u r a l drawings. Hall of

Asian Peoples, American M u s e u m

Peoples, presenting Ethiopia.

of Natural History. Courtesy,

American M u s e u m of Natural

American M u s e u m of Natural
History, Neg. # 68137, fr. 30.
Panel of mural drawings (detail).
5. Page 39
Grasslands." Courtesy, American

Photo: Rota, neg. # 61465, fr. 7.

M u s e u m of Natural History, Neg. #

Young New Yorker in front of

333562Plains Group.

Indian rhinoceros, Hall of Asian

Entrance to Hall of African Peoples,

Mammals, American M u s e u m of
Natural History. Photo: Mieke Bal.
9. Page 58

World: text panel and two displays.

Michelangelo da Caravaggio,

Photo: Mieke Bal.

Medusa's Head, oil on convex wood,

6. Page 41
Political caricatures from display
"Political Influences," middle sec-

1600-1601, Galleria degli Uffizi,

10. Page 61

tion of "Foreign Influences."

Michelangelo da Caravaggio,

Entrance to the Hall of African

The Sacrifice of Isaac, oil on canvas,

Peoples, American M u s e u m of

1603. Uffizi, Florence.

Natural History. Courtesy,

Effect of installation of Medusa's Head

American M u s e u m of Natural

and The Sacrifice of Isaac (detail),

History, Neg. # 63549, fr. 36.

Display "Religious Influences,"
right-hand section of "Foreign

Uffizi, Florence.
11. Page 89
Rembrandt van Rijn, Belshazzar's

Influences." Entrance to the Hall of

Feast (Mene Tekel), 1635, oil on canvas,

African Peoples, American M u s e u m

National Gallery, London.

of Natural History. Courtesy,


George Peterson. American

M u s e u m of Natural History.

History. From Hall of Birds of the


Working on the Pygmy G r o u p

Diorama, "Farmers of the

American M u s e u m of Natural


History. Photo: Mieke Bal.

8. Page 48

American M u s e u m of Natural

12. Page 91
Wall in the Musee d'Orsay, with

History, Neg. # 63549, fr. 35 (mirror

Courbet's paintings The Painter's

image of the display).

Studio and The Source. Photo: Inge

7. Page 44
"Man in Africa"earliest h u m a n

Gustave Courbet, The Painter's Studio,

footsteps. Left-hand panel of

1855, oil on canvas. Musee d'Orsay,

entrance to Hall of African Peoples,


American M u s e u m of Natural

Gustave Courbet, The Source, 1868,

History. Photo: Mieke Bal.

"Christianity," right-hand window
after entrance to Hall of African

oil on canvas. Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

13. Page 100
Cover of Tinterow (1993).

14. Page 103

Defeats Earthly Love, c. 1602-1603,

Floorplan of the New Nineteenth-

Gemaldegallerie, Berlin-Dahlem.

Century European Paintings and

A corner in the Gemaldegallerie,

Sculpture Galleries, Metropolitan

Berlin-Dahlem. Photo: Monique

M u s e u m of Art, New York


(Tinterow 1993: 24).

15. Page 106

21. Page 148

Sandra Kriel, For Our Fallen Comrades,

Edouard Manet, Woman with a Parrot,

19911992, mixed media. Collection

1866, oil on canvas. Metropolitan

of the artist.

M u s e u m of Art, New York.

16. Page 107
Gustave Courbet, Woman with a Parrot,

22. Page 160

Edwin Janssen, Narcissus and the
Pool of Corruption, 1994 installation,

1866, oil on canvas. Metropolitan

Rotterdam, M u s e u m Boymans

M u s e u m of Art, New York.

van Beuningen (detail). Photo:

Alexandre Canabel, The Birth of Venus,

Bob Groenewaagen.

1863, oil on canvas. Metropolitan

Narcissus and the Pool of Corruption,

M u s e u m of Art, New York.

installation in progress.

17. Page 114

23. Page 219

Rubens wall in r o o m 240,

Cover of Raymond Corbey, Wildhetd

Gemaldegallerie, Berlin-Dahlem.

en heschaving. De Europese verbeelding van

Photo: Monique Moser-Verrey.

Afnka (Baarn: Ambo 1989), p. 160.

Cranach exhibit.

From Corbey.

Gemaldegallerie, Berlin-Dahlem.

From Malek Alloula, The Colonial

Photo: Monique Moser-Verrey.

18. Page 119
Caravaggio, Amor as Victor, c. 1602,
oil on canvas. Gemaldegallerie,

Harem (Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 24.
24. Page 259
Giorgione, Sleeping Venus c. 15051510,


oil on canvas. Staatliche

A corner in the Gemaldegallerie,

Gemaldegallerie, Dresden.

Berlin-Dahlem. Photo: Monique

Rembrandt van Rijn, Danae,

19. Page 120
Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas,

The Depiction of a Nude, 1636, oil on

canvas. Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
25. Page 278

c. 1600-1601, Gemaldegallerie,

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863,


oil on canvas. Muse d'Orsay, Paris.

A corner in the Gemaldegallerie,

Giorgione, Sleeping Venus c.

Berlin-Dahlem. Photo: Monique

15051510, oil on canvas. Staatliche


Gemaldegallerie, Dresden.

20. Page 121

Giovanni Baglione, Heavenly Amor

26. Page 291

Michelangelo da Caravaggio,



Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598-1599,

oil on canvas. Galleria Nazionale
d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini,
27. Page 298
Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying
Holophernes, 1620, oil on canvas.
Uffizi (Bardazzi), Florence.
28. Page 301

Maid Servant with the Head of Holophemes,

c. 1625, oil on canvas. Detroit Institute
of Art, Gift of Mr. Leslie H. Green.
30. Page 307
Frida Kahlo, "Unos cuantos

drawing, c. 1652, Benesch 897.

Fondacin Dolores Olmedo

Meso di Capodimonte, Naples.

Patilo, Mexico. A.C.

Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith and her

Francis Bacon, Reclining Woman, 1961,

Maid Servant Leaving the Enemy Camp,

1961, oil on canvas. Tate Gallery,


Pitti, Florence.
Artemesia Gentileschi, SelJ-Portrait
as the Allegory of Painting 1630,


Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith and her

piquetitos!" 1935, oil on metal.

29. Page 303


London. Collection of Her

Majesty the Queen.

Rembrandt, Judith and Holophernes,

16131614, oil on canvas. Palazzo


oil on canvas. Kensington Palace,

31. Page 310

Rembrandt, Joseph Accused by
Potiphar's Wife, 1655, oil on canvas.
Dahlem, Berlin.



xposition, expos, exposure: the

English language doesn't really offer a word that adequately covers the three
issues this book is bringing together, but classical Greek does. The Greek verb
apo-deik-numai is one of those productive, inspiring verbs in the middle voice
whose ambiguity shows connections which the separate words that cover the
same meanings would obscure. As Gregory Nagy points out in his fine analysis

of the opening statement of Herodotus' Histonae, this verb refers to the action of
"making a public presentation" or "publicly demonstrating." It can be combined
with a noun meaning opinions or judgments and refer to the public presentation of
someone's views; or it can refer to the performing of those deeds that deserve to
be made public (Pindar's Homer: 217220).
Some aspect or version of each of these meanings is central to this book; the
connections among them will provide deeper insight into all three. Something
is made public in exposition, and that event involves bringing out into the public domain the deepest held views and beliefs of a subject. Exposition is always
also an argument. Therefore, in publicizing these views the subject objectifies,
exposes himself as m u c h as the object; this makes the exposition an exposure
of the self. Such exposure is an act of producing meaning, a performance.
I am therefore interested in the aspect of m u s e u m s that extends from the
specific, literalized definition to a broader, partly metaphorical use of the idea
of "museum." That aspect is a particular form of discursive behavior, the posture or gesture of exposing. The discourse around which museums evolve, and
which defines their primary function, is exposition. This book examines the ambiguities involved in gestures of exposing; in gestures that point to things and
seem to say: "Look!"often implying: "That's how it is." The "Look!" aspect
involves the visual availability of the exposed object. The "That's how it is"
aspect involves the authority of the person w h o knows: epistemic authority.
The gesture of exposing connects these two aspects. The possible discrepancy
between the object that is present and the statement about it creates the ambi2

guities that I examine here.


Over the past twenty or so years, the humanities have developed an increasing awareness of their own limitations, which include the arbitrariness of their
disciplinary boundaries, the often exclusionary assumptions involved in the
aesthetics on which m u c h work by humanists is based, and their separation
from real social issues that were relegated to the social sciences. These three selfcritical notes might explain why the m u s e u m has become an attractive object
of study. Whereas self-criticism is perceived by some as dis-integrative, the
m u s e u m requires integration. It needs interdisciplinary analysis; it has the
debate on aesthetics on its agenda; and it is essentially a social institution. The
m u s e u m appears as a suitable emblem of contemporary humanistic studies.

Museums are ideally suited to this new kind of integrative and self-critical
analysis because they are multimedial. They appeal to those interested in challenging the artificial boundaries between media-based disciplines. In response
to the risk of shallow and passing fashion, and curious about what could happen if the mixed-media nature of museums were to be a paradigm of cultural
practice in general, I propose a critical analysis not of museums as an object but
of the "discourse" that is deployed in and through them. True to the Greek verb
of showing, such discourse is apo-deictic: affirmative, demonstrative, and authoritative on the one hand, opining, often opinionated, on the other.
"Discourse" does not mean here yet another invasion by language; on the
contrary, using such a term for the analysis of museums necessitates a "multimedialization" of the concept of discourse itself. Discourse implies a set of semiotic and epistemological habits that enables and prescribes ways of
communicating and thinking that others who participate in the discourse can
also use. A discourse provides a basis for intersubjectivity and understanding. It
entails epistemological attitudes. It also includes unexamined assumptions
about meaning and about the world. Language can be a part of the media used
in a discourse, not the other way around.
Trying to get away from discussions about how important, invasive, or pervasive language as a medium is in relation to images, I have looked for a guideline or searchlight to help us look at the integrative aspect of what happens in
museums. My guideline will be the notion that gestures of showing can be considered discursive acts, best considered as (or analogous to) specific speech acts.
"Exposing" is best understood when first considered in an unambiguous situation where everyone can recognize it as such: in museums.
Exposing an agent, or subject, puts "things" on display, which creates a subject/object dichotomy. This dichotomy enables the subject to make a statement
about the object. The object is there to substantiate the statement. It is put there
within a frame that enables the statement to come across. There is an addressee
for the statement: the visitor, viewer, or reader. The discourse surrounding
the exposition, or, m o r e precisely, the discourse that is the exposition, is
"constative": informative and affirmative. The discourse has a t r u t h value: the
proposition it conveys is either true or false. It is apo-deictic in that sense of affirmation. In expositions a "first person," the exposer, tells a "second person," the


visitor, about a "third person," the object on display, who does not participate
in the conversation. But unlike many other constative speech acts, the object,
although mute, is present.
The inevitable implication of a "first person" who "speaks" or does the showing makes the museal statement apo-deictic in the second sense: opining, opinionated. The "first person" remains invisible. The "second person," implicitly,
has a potential "first-person" position as a respondent; his or her response to the
exposing is the primary and decisive conditioner the exposing to happen at all.
The "third person," silenced by the discursive situation, is the most important
element, the only one visible. This visibility and this presence paradoxically makes
it possible to make statements about the object that do not apply to it; the discrepancy between "thing" and "sign" is precisely what makes signs necessary
and useful. But the discrepancy in the case of exposition is blatant and emphatic,
because the presence of a "thing" that recedes before the statement about it
brings the discrepancy to the fore. The thing on display comes to stand for
something else, the statement about it. It comes to mean. The thing recedes into
invisibility as its sign status takes precedence to make the statement. A sign stands
for a thing (or idea) in some capacity, for someone. This is a definition of a sign.
The space between thing and statement is filled up. One such "filler" is narrative. The very fact of exposing the objectpresenting it while informing
about itimpels the subject to connect the "present" of the objects to the
"past" of their making, functioning, and meaning. This is one of the levels on
which exposition is narrative. The other level on which narrative occurs is the

necessarily sequential nature of the visit. The "walking tour" links the elements

of the exposition for the "second person." Walking t h r o u g h a m u s e u m is like

reading a book. The two narratives overlap but are not identical.
These narratives tend to follow what Gananath Obeyesekere (Apotheosis:
1011) calls "myth models." This term refers to the powerful, paradigmatic
myths that serve as models for the construction of similar myths, such as
the myth of the noble savage that informs other, parallel, or derivative myths
of primitivism. The term also refers to underlying combinations of ideas
deployed in a variety of narrative forms. A powerful example is the combination of opposites, in binary thought, where the idea of civilization is opposed
to negatives, such as barbarism, with derivative dualisms such as art versus

culture, or historical versus timeless. Discourses are repositories for myth models that become "naturalized"taken for granted as obvious t r u t h s . Narrativization is a highly efficient way of inserting m y t h models into the stories of
everyday life.
The combination of these features makes exposing much like a third-person,
realistic narrative, as in the tradition of the great realist fiction of the nineteenth
century. If the realist novel flourished in the same age as the development of the
great museums, it is because both seem to say, "Look!" I would like to revive this
original situation of speech so that the "first person" becomes once again visible.
Then I want to highlight and analyze the exchange between the "first" and "second" persons, emblematized by the act of saying "Look!"an exhortation by
implication addressed to a second person. Finally, once the first and second person positions have become explicit and interactive, the status of the "third person," the object of their pointing, may be involved in this narrative in other ways
than simple objectification.
As I have suggested before, the "that's how it is" aspect connects the object
with an epistemology, anchored in a belief, almost tautologically referred to as
positivist, that what you see must be real, true, present, or otherwise reliable.
After all, it is visible, you see it there, before you. Although every visitor knows
at an intuitive level that an exposition is a representation, the presence of the
object provides an undeniable urge to recognize its "truth." This book explores
the connections between these two aspects by means of a juxtaposition of three
areas of exposition usually treated separately: museal exposition, the exposure
of bodies in cultural artifacts, and the exposition of arguments.
The most obvious place where these three areas of exposition are integrated,
and doubtlessly the reason for the current attention to museums, is the actual,
concrete, "literal" exhibition of things in m u s e u m s and galleries. So, that is
where I will begin. These things are selected, ordered, explained, and made
"readable" on the basis of arguments which often remain unarticulated, but
which tend to be related to a particular kind of use value. One such value is aesthetics, another one is knowledge, including historical knowledge.
I would like to emphasize the intimate connection between such literal
exposition and exposure. With the advent of second-wave feminism, film
critics and art historians have been exploring the modalities and consequences


of exposing h u m a n bodies in the Western tradition of visual art, even if, embedded within the most aesthetic of enterprises, such exposings invariably have an
erotic dimension. Depicting the nude or grazing a body with a camera are ways
of turning bodies into "things" on display in the very act of erotically engaging t h e m . Putting things in glass cases or on walls requires coming to terms
with the possibility that this gesture might be as exploitative, indiscreet, and
objectifying, but also as potentially erotic, as displaying a ( h u m a n ) body.
While I wish to suggest an inherent similarity between this domain and the
other two, I do not want to capitalize on the obvious erotic dimension of
rhetoric, the seductiveness of persuasion. This erotic aspect has been included
in the study of rhetoric ever since the Greeks, and then the Romans, developed
it as a specific discursive field. I prefer to take issue with the notion that rhetoric
is just the "waste" or "noise" of academic writing; the excess stuff a good academic ought to avoid, or reduce to an acceptable m i n i m u m . Seduction is, arguably, part of language use, of speech acts, and as long as academics write, their
arguments will be embedded in the normal conditions of language use. Yet, I
believe the similarity between exposing, exposure, and expository writing is
more fundamental than that.
As an inherent element of the c o m m o n ground, of the "language" of writing itself, these arguments tend typically to use such strategies as illustrations,
examples, or narratives, which take the place of the things m u s e u m s use to
make their arguments. In other words, they cannot be deployed without the
gesture of "Look!" Conversely, the analogy suggests that museal exposition, too,

is an argument that uses things as illustrations for itself rather than as a h u m EXPOSURES

ble service to the objects worthy of display. Academic humanistic discourse is,
then, involved in making such expository gestures about, as well as by means
of, visual objects or their analogues, "facts." The argument stands or falls with
the adherence given to the gesture of "that's how it is."
The force of the attraction exposition holds for both writers and readers is
perhaps most evident when we consider the use made of visual illustrations
in writings about visual objects. Things get particularly troublesome when
exposition itself is the object of study. Take the case where the images that the
text discusses are problematic, for reasons inherent to exposition: they objectify
the objects, not only the images but also the mimetically represented others they

p u t forward. These objects are then relegated to the status of "third person":
silenced by the narrative about it. The academic is explainingexposinghow
problematic such use of images is and, caught up in the very discourse she is
exposing (denouncing), needs to invoke examples of what she is exposing (arguing). And the minute the illustration is inserted, the discourse is implicated in
the problem that was the target of its own project.
This is an aporia toward which today's critical endeavor leads, as it is pursued
by those innovative disciplines that group themselves under the heading of cultural studies. Failing, as it often does, to take into consideration the question of
the subject, cultural studies is at risk of missing its subject: the intricacies
between its own academic subjectivity and the subject matter it purports to
analyze. For the discourse of cultural analysis and criticism is also the product
of an agent of exposingthe academic argumentand, by virtue of the speech
act she or he is performing, that agent is semantically situated within that argument. This problem is the prime concern of this book.
It seems to be impossible to conduct an analysis of exposition without clarifying to what extent and under which conditions and modalities writing is irremediably bound up with what it attempts to explore in current museum studies
and, by extension, other critical analyses pertaining to both texts and images.
Hence my title, Double Exposures, which alludes to this inevitable duplicity within,
and involvement of, the field out of which this study grew.
But the rhetoric of persuasion functions within a discursive situation that is
also narrative. The tools of analysis, therefore, are best selected and employed
in an integration of rhetoric and the theory of narrative (narratology). Rhetoric
helps to "read" not just the artifacts in a museum, but also the m u s e u m and its
exhibitions themselves. The narratological perspective provides meaning to the
otherwise loose elements of such a reading. Most importantly, the analysis aims
to yield, on the one hand, an integrated account of the discursive strategies put
into effect by the museum's expository agent (the curators), and, on the other
hand, the effective process of meaning-making that these strategies suggest to
the visitor. The reading itself, then, becomes part of the meaning it yields. And
this seems an important insight, for what are museums for if not visitors?
In semiotic terms, display is based on indexicality: it points to what is
actually present. Thus it is bound up with three cultural "habits" (Peirce) or


unquestioned, because non-reflective, grounds on which the patterns of meaning can articulate themselves: expository agency, realism, and vision.
Expository agency stands for the subject of the semiotic behavior in which the
constative use of signs prevails. It includes practices like constative language use,
visual pointing (display in the narrow sense), alleging examples, laying out arguments on the basis of narrative, mapping, and laying bare. It is bound to subjects and embedded in power structures. Only those who are invested with
cultural authority can be expository agents. For only such subjects are able to
address an audience, routinely, that is numerous and anonymous to the agent.
This audience tends to go along with the assumed general meaning of the gesture of exposing: to believe, to appreciate, and to enjoy. F u r t h e r m o r e , only
authoritative subjects have the material access to the objects of display required
for the gesture to be truly indexical.
Expository agency ought, however, not to be equated with individual intention. Whenever the case studies of which m u c h of this book consists point out
problematic consequences of the intricacies of exposing, the target of that assessm e n t is a cultural practice and the cultural politics and divisions that enable
that practice, not an individual and his or her personal intentions. The success
or failure of expository activity is not a measure of what one person "wants to
say," but what a community and its subjects think, feel, or experience to be the
consequence of the exposition. In this sense, exposition is here considered as an
arch-cultural practice, if not a keystone of how a culture functions. Meaning is
slippery and variable, both smaller and endlessly greater than what the speak8

ing subject would like to convey. This holds a fortiori for key words in the pracEXPOSURES

tices under scrutiny like "realism" and "looking."

Realism is doubly involved in exposition: the most representative, uncontested objects of art are those that are considered "mimetic," clothed in a transparency that yields up truth, while showing these objects is in itself taken to be
a transparent gesture of presenting the object itself, its truth. The double meaning of the qualifier apo-deictic is a constant reminder of the deceptiveness of such


Realism may serve the interests of dominant moral and political structures,
the illusion of iconicity, and promote the use of art as documentary. It serves
what Barthes termed the effect of the real, a mode of interpretation that neglects

the content of a representation in favor of the notion that "this is reality" as an

implication of the notion that "this is art." The effect of the real, both in practice and also in its theoretical status, functions like a Freudian denial. Drawing
attention to the reality status of the represented object, it obscures its precise,
local meanings.
Another side of realism resides in its occasional collusion with the aesthetic
of the "picturesque," the representation of details c o n n o t i n g otherness in
terms of derogatory and then idealized categories such as poverty. The interest in the picturesque in t u r n colludes with the rise of ethnography as a discipline that, to p u t it a bit bluntly, is predicated u p o n the destruction of the
cultures it studies.
Whether it is viewed in opposition to fantasy, to distortion, or to fiction, realism always ends up on top, subsuming the very category to which it is opposed.
And, last but not least, realism, in literature as well as in art, is bound up with
vision. Is vision as a mode of representation, knowledge, and sexual relationality
especially pervasive in modernity? And is it allied to colonialism and patriarchy?
Both these questions, and the answers given to them, are predicated upon the
assumption that it is possible to define vision in some unified, if not essentialist,
way. This book does not endorse that assumption. Instead, it presents the argument that differentiating modes, if not kinds of visionmultiplying perspectives, proliferating points of viewmay be a more useful strategy for examining
the ideological, epistemological, and representational implications of dominating modes of vision, including their illusory monopoly in the domain of display.

What display does to its addressees is the question that is at the core of the analyses that follow. The first chapters analyze the forms taken by the constative
speech acts of display. The following analyses will be concerned with the making of such constatives, the sacrifices they entail, and alternative strategies.
Subsequently, the focus will be on the performative effect resulting from the
denial or repression of the discursive aspect of display.
To make my a r g u m e n t immediately clear and concrete, the book begins
with a case study. This is a close reading of a few passages in a m u s e u m that

claims to "show" how peoples and animals "really are": the American Museum
of Natural History. I chose this m u s e u m because of its explicit educational discourse and its orientation to visitors, which results in an exceptional and steady
popularity. It has a special appeal to children, hence, its influence is the greater
for its pedagogical effect. The analysis focuses on tensions between the objects
displayed and the captions explaining them. There is a tension between telling
and showing, two modes of exposition that are meant to collaborate, but do
not always do so.
Then I will outline the ways in which a discourse-oriented perspective can
be useful for reflection on what museums do with their exhibitions. The central claim is that display is so rigorously constative that its syntax confirms the
structure of the affirmative sentence only, not leaving m u c h room for other
speech acts, such as questions and other dialogic forms.
The book then moves on to the discourse of m u s e u m professionals. For a
self-critical analysis it is necessary to determine whether the use of linguistic
terminology by m u s e u m curators and cultural analysts is m o r e than just
another fashionable way of reconfirming, rather than questioning, the onesided power of exhibition makers. Experiments in academic writing are analyzed next. The book continues reflection on discourse, but takes such
reflection beyond the thematics of the m u s e u m proper. "Exposition" is now
taken as an heuristic metaphor to understand academic writing in new museological terms.
The project of making the positions of first, second, and third persons in the

discursive sense shift around so as to destabilize the rigid relation of authority


and mastery among expository agent, viewer/reader, and exposed object reaches
a new dimension in the last chapters of this book. The works that are enshrined
in museums and by scholarship, as well as the objects represented in and
through them, will turn the tables on their objectifying worshippers. The expository agents here will be Olympia, Lucretia, and Judith, classical objects of exposing; women whose object status, as bone of contention between men (Lucretia),
as object of desire and/or contempt (Olympia), or as Scary Woman (Judith), has
made t h e m into cultural icons, allegories of thingness. Overinterpreted "masterpieces" will talk back from the walls on which they had been pinned up in
order to pronounce judgment on old questions and the binary oppositions on

which they are based. They will say yes and no, laugh at and propose alternatives
to such questions as the dangerous effect of voyeurism, the exploitative and
offensive nature of the nude in art, and the "good" or "bad" character of mythical women figures. Thus the works exposed become expository writers of arguments about exposure.

The subject of cultural analysis is not only to be defined in terms of a particular domain or subject matter. Cultural analysis has developed a new approach
to a new subject matter; an integrative, interdisciplinary analysis of objects
from everyday culture, the rejects of the official disciplines. This approach
establishes relations among different cultural expressions coming from and
functioning for various cultural agents and groups. A special, and important,
area within this project is what Gayatri Spivak (Outside, 1993) calls transnational
culture studies, which includes an analysis of the history of the production of
values through a critique of "homogenizing reason" (Spivak: 283). I am proposing to bring this new approach to bear on the traditional subjects as well as the
new ones. The subject of cultural studies is defined by the duplicity of the term
subject itself.
Cultural studies, here transformed into cultural analysis, stands for an
approach, for an interdisciplinarity that is neither non-disciplinary, nor
methodologically eclectic, nor indifferent. Taking its clues from the self-critical reflections that the new museology advocates, this endeavor is primarily
analytical. Often, the analysis involves "saying no to what you inhabit" (Spivak:
281). But the dwelling makes the "no" more complicated, just as m u c h as the
other way around.
Cultural studies should be renamed cultural analysis. The analyses t h r o u g h
which the argument for such a renaming is built up have in c o m m o n a cohabitation of theoretical reflection and reading in which the "object" from subject
matter becomes subject, participating in the construction of theoretical views.
They also share a contemporaneity. This is not an indifference to history but a
foregrounding of the active presence of the object, or text, in the same historical space as inhabited by the subject, "me." This foregrounding entails, as Susan


R. Suleiman phrased it, "self-recognition, historical awareness, and collective

action" (Risking: 3). Interested in detailed readings of objects, the analysis is not
geared toward an archaeology of meaning but toward the interaction with and
through meaning that constitutes cultural practice, now.



in which the threshold between
two worlds is more telling than
For "A," in loving memory

the division between the two

sides of New York's Central
Park, and words expose images
exposing words1


ew York City, in m a n y ways

the heart and icon of American culture, allows the casual stroller to be struck
by the semiotic charge of environment. Its layout, with its central axis, centripetally drawing toward its green heart reminiscent of the indispensable
nature it has replaced, its monumental avenues running along the Park, states
the importance of a balanced intercourse between background and figure,

between overall plan and detailed specifics, and between organization and
The tourist entering Manhattan from downtown might not even be struck
by the neat symmetry in the middle of the city: Central Park, the token of an
indispensable, domesticated preserve of nature-within-culture, with the two
major museums, preserves of culture and of nature, on each side. The symmetry is taken for granted, and so is the rationale that sustains it. The city plan itself
points to elements of the city's life.
To the right, on the more elegant East Side, stands the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, or the Met: the treasury of culture. The great art of the world is stored
and exhibited here, with a quantitative as well as expository emphasis on Western
European art as if to propose an aesthetic base for the social structures that reign
in this society. It makes the world around the Park almost look normal. 2
The m u s e u m fits all the priorities of its own social environment: Western
European art dominates, American art is represented as a good second cousin
evolving as Europe declines, while the parallel treatment of "archaic" and "foreign" art, from Mesopotamian to Indian, literally kept in the dark, contrasts with
the importance accorded to the "ancient" predecessorsthe Greeks and Romans.
The overall impression is one of complete control, possession, storage: the Met has
the art of the world within its walls, and its visitors have it in their pocket.
The West Side is, today at least, less "classy." On the left-hand side of the Park
stands the American M u s e u m of Natural History. Around ten A.M., yellow
dominates the surroundings when endless numbers of schoolbuses discharge

the noisy groups of children who come to the m u s e u m to learn about life. A

booklet for sale in the Museum, published in 1984 and reissued in 1990, somewhat pompously entitled Official Guide to the American Museum of Natural History,
makes sure the public does not underestimate the institution's importance on
the city map. It begins as follows:
The American Museum of Natural History, a complex of large granite buildings
topped by towers overlooking the west side of Central Park, has spread its marvels
before an appreciative audience for over a century. Its stored treasures work their
magic on millions of visitors every year and are studied by resident and visiting
scientists and scholars from all over the world. A monument to humanity and nature,

the museum instructs, it inspires, and it provides a solid basis for the understanding
of our planet and its diverse inhabitants.3

The Guide is nothing like a guide: it does not provide floormaps and lists of
exhibits, nor does it suggest an itinerary or feature a catalogue. It is emphatically
a self-presentation that represents the main thrust of the institution's ambition.
If taken as a symptom of the museum's sense of self, it strikes one by its insistence.4 This grandiose image of the museum is clearly not taken for granted. The
emphatic and repeated representation of the institution's ambition signals an
unease about itself, a lack of self-evidence that harbors the conflicts out of which
it emerged and within which it stands: an unsettlement.
There is nothing surprising about this unease: we are confronted with a product of colonialism in a postcolonial era. The past clashes with the present of
which it is also a part, from which it cannot be excised although it keeps nagging
from within the present as a misfit. By way of an exploration of the issues pertaining to display, that unsettlement at the heart of this m o n u m e n t to settlement and the ways it is dealt with will be the subject of inquiry in this chapter.
This monumental institution houses the "other" of the Met in three senses, all
three paradoxical. First, it is devoted not to culture but to nature. But nature is
provided with that fundamental, defining feature of culture: history. Second, in
this museum animals predominate, presented in their "natural" settings, whose
representations are crafted with great artistic skill. Natural setting is the backdrop
of the animal kingdom. But then, a few rooms are devoted to peoples: Asian,
African, Oceanic, Native American. These are precisely the peoples whose artistic


products are represented in the Met in remote and dark galleries. These are the


"exotic" peoples, those who produced works that we only reluctantly, and unsure


of our judgment, classify as art. These works of art are exhibited here as artifacts,
rigorously remaining on the other side in James Clifford's Art-Culture System.5
The juxtaposition of these peoples' cultures with the animals constitutes the
conflict at the core of this m u s e u m , distinguishing it from its unproblematically elitist colleague across the Park. By this very division of the city map, the
universal concept of "humanity" is filled with specific meaning. The division of
"culture" and "nature" between the East Side and West Side of Manhattan relegates the large majority of the world's population to the status of static being,


assigning to a small portion only the higher status of art producers in history.
Where "nature," in the dioramas, is a backdrop, transfixed in stasis, "art," presented in the Met as an ineluctable evolution, is endowed with a story. But the
American Museum of Natural History presents its own story, too: that of fixation and the denial of time. 6
Yet in the representation of those foreign peoples, artistic production is an
important part of the display. The artifacts function as indices of the cultures
whose structures and ways of life have been elaboratedly crafted by the museum's
staff, past and present (mainly past). Yet their works of art are indices, not of the
art of the peoples, but of the realism of their representation. They serve an "effect
of the real," an effect where the meaning "realness" overrules the specific meanings.7 Instead of artifacts processed into aesthetic objects as they would be on the
East Side of the Park, they are indices interpreted as nature. 8 The American
Museum of Natural History houses the Met's other in this third sense, too: it displays art as nature, for when "nature" turns out to be hard to isolate, "art" will
assist, but as nature's handmaiden. While the Met displays art for art's sake, as the
climax of h u m a n achievement, the American Museum of Natural History displays art as instrumental cognitive tool: anonymous, necessary, natural.
This exposition, both in the broader, general sense of "exposing an idea" and
in the specific sense of exhibition, points at objects, and in that gesture makes a
statement. The constative speech act conveys a "text," consisting of the combined proposition of "these artifacts are natural (as opposed to artistic)" and "this
(conception) is real." I hope to analyze this text further, decomposing it into its

constitutive "sentences," as I read them during my visit to the m u s e u m in 1991.



A first element that needs to be brought out in the open is the invisible "I," the
subject of the text, that slippery deictic element that has no meaning outside
the discursive situation itself. Let me be emphatic, first, about the wrong answer
that might slip in here: the expository agent is not the present curators and other
m u s e u m staff. The people currently working in museums are only a tiny connection in a long chain of subjects.
Who, then, is this "I" who is "speaking" in the American Museum of Natural
History, what is this expository agent's semantic makeup, and which discourse

can it speak? For any m u s e u m with a past of this dimension, the agent is historically double and "monumental" serving collective memory. The historical
two-sidednessits inherited status and material condition doubled with its
agency within New York society in the 1990semanates from all the pores of
the building as you approach, then enter it.
The American Museum of Natural History is monumental not only in architecture and design, but also in size, scope, and content. This m o n u m e n t a l i t y
suggests that the primary meaning of the museum is inherited from its history:
comprehensive collecting as an activity within colonialism. 9 In this respect,
m u s e u m s belong to an era of scientific and colonial ambition, stretching out
from the Renaissance through the early twentieth century, with its climactic
m o m e n t in the second half of the nineteenth century. It belongs in the category of contemporary endeavors such as experimental medicine (Claude
Bernard), evolutionary biology (Charles Darwin), and the naturalistic novel
(Emile Zola), which claims to present a comprehensive social study. Such projects have been definitively compromised by postromantic critique, postcolonial protest, and postmodern disillusionment. 10
But that troubling prefix post- doesn't make things easier. Any m u s e u m of
this size and ambition is today saddled with a double status; it is also a m u s e u m
of the m u s e u m , a reservation, not for endangered natural species but for an
endangered cultural self, a meta-museum. 1 1 Such a museum solicits reflections
on and of its own ideological position and history. It speaks to its own complicity with practices of domination, while it also continues to pursue an educational project that has to be adjusted to new conceptions and pedagogical needs.
Indeed, the museum's use for research and education is insisted upon in its selfrepresentations including the Guide. The "I" thus begins to point to itself.
The critique of nineteenth-century collectionism misses its purpose if it fails
to confront the remote pastthe Victorian era as the late twentieth century's
bad consciencewith the present, whose ties to what it critiques need assessment as well. That is the trouble with post-, as with the disciplines that pursue
an archeology of meaning. On the one hand, the prefix suggests a detachment,
a severing of the umbilical cord that binds our time to history; on the other
hand, it reminds us of what it leaves behind, insisting that we settle accounts
with the "post-" within ourselves.12


Here, therefore, I will look at the meta-museum status of the displays in the
American Museum of Natural History as I found them. I will examine how the
gesture of display meets the content of the proposition and reveal how the
museum as an expository agent shows its hand in showing others. This analysis engages the museum discourse now, and probes its effectivity today. The focus
is not on the nineteenth-century colonial project but on the twentieth-century
educational one. And while Donna Haraway described and criticized the way in
which the collection was compiled in the past, I will consider the rhetoric of
the m u s e u m in justifying or passing off the legacy of that past ambition, its
forms of address in the present: where "I" says to "you" what "they" are like.
The space of a m u s e u m presupposes a walking tour, an order in which the
dioramas, exhibits, and panels are viewed and read. Thus it addresses an implied
viewerin narratological terms, a foclizerwhose tour produces the story of
knowledge taken in and taken home. I will focus on the display as a sign system
working in the realm between visual and verbal, and between information and
persuasion, as it produces the walking learner. My analysis will concentrate on
a small portion of the second floor, as I visited it in the Fall of 1991.
Entering the imposing hall at the main entrance on Central Park West, and
prepared by the m o n u m e n t of Theodore Roosevelt outside, the words of
Roosevelt fall upon the visitor. His statements are engraved on all four walls.
The personification of the historical expository agent speaks of the values that
this institutionat the timewas expected to bring home to the nation. On
the left facing the entering visitor is the statement "Youth," on the right

"Manhood." Turning around to see the writing on the opposite wall, you read

"The State" on the left, and "Nature" on the right. In order to explicate what I
mean by the need to pay attention to the meta-museum status of the museum,
let me quote a line or two from each. Remember, we are reading what was written at the beginning of the twentieth century.
. . . Courage and hard work self mastery and intelligent effort are all essential to a
successful life.
. . . All daring and courage all iron endurance of misfortune make for a finer nobler
type of manhood.

The State
. . . Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.
. . . There is a delight in the hardy life of the open.
There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal
its mystery its melancholy and its charm.

The museum's installations for the most part come from a time when youth was
defined through the virtues of masculinity and the goal of life in terms of success.
Masculinity, in turn, was defined by aggression and sublimation. Nationhood promoted war, and women were not spoken about. Nature was mystified in terms
that express while hiding them ("hidden spirit") the qualities of femininity that
put both nature and women up for grabs.
It is good, therefore, that these texts remain on these walls. All it would take,
to make t h e m work toward a better understanding of the historical embeddedness of what would otherwise seem to be a half-heartedness inside the
museum, is an indication of that historicality. One could inscribe their agency
within the chain of history by pointing out how these statements, meant in the
first decades of the century to have an everlasting, universal value, demonstrate
that history most prominently is change, although not necessarily evolution.
The imposing, monumentally inscribed walls could be made the first object of
display instead of a display of unquestioned, naked authority.


The most obvious problem of the m u s e u m is the collocation, in its expository discourse, of animals and foreign peoples as the two others of dominant
culture. The visual displays speak to the visitor in more than just informational
terms; they also present a surplus discourse. Similarly, "collocation" is m o r e
than just visual juxtaposition; by speaking at the same time about animals and
foreign peoples, the displays communicate an ideology of distinction, which has
this conflation as its sign system. 13 1 contend that the double function of the
museum as a display of its own status and history (its meta-function), as well as
of its enduring cognitive educational vocation (its object-function), requires an
absorption, in the display, of that critical and historical consciousness.
This double mission entails a specific exchange between the verbal and visual
discourses. One could expect that whereas the visual displays, the dioramas