Legible Affects: The Melodramatic Imagination in Painting

In: Legibility in the Age of Signs and Machines

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In this chapter, Ernst van Alphen explores the possibility and productiveness of the idea that affects have legible forms. The author goes beyond the idea that affect is an energetic intensity effecting a reaction in a reader or viewer. Legible forms will also be distinguished from legible signs. Although signs have form, forms do not always result in conventional signs. Van Alphen close-reads the forms of affect in Andrew Wyeth’s iconic 1948 painting Christina’s World. The concluding consideration will be the question of how the formal affective reading of this painting relates to close readings in terms of signification.

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