Tag Archives: visual rhetorics

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things


— philosopher, historian and critic often identified as a post-structuralist interested in destabilizing meaning, undermining theoretical systems of universality, and studying ways in which knowledge is produced in particular cultural and historical moments. 


In the The Order of Things, Foucault employs his method of archaeology to demonstrate how scientific knowledge is dependent on the prevailing epistemes of a culture in particular moments of time and thus scientific knowledge shifts and changes as the dominant epistemes shift and change throughout time and space.  To illustrate this point, Foucault reveals what he calls the positive unconscious of knowledge that was part of scientific discourse in three particular moments of European culture: the Renaissance, the Classical period and the modern era. According to Foucault, in its most originary form, language was thought of as a certain and transparent sign of nature due to immediate resemblance with the designated things (36). In the Renaissance, the episteme of similitudes still prevailed to a certain extent and thus interpretation had the power to reveal the true nature of things represented in language.


During the Classical period, the episteme of representation underlied the knowledge common to natural history, economics, and grammar.  As Foucault explains, knowledge of the natural world was based on identity and difference.  Through naming things, the being of things was defined and a universal science of order was developed. In terms of language, during the Classical period, language was thought to represent thought and thus language ordered thought.  General grammar erupted during the Classical period as the new episteme, which studied the verbal order of signs, ie. Discourse.  With the development of General Grammar, a system of identities and differences that each language was thought to employ and constitute was developed.  In other words, like in natural history, a taxonomy of language was identified which made discourse possible.  Proposition became the virtue of language; the verb to be distinguished the difference between signs and language.  Discourse took on a new perceived main purpose: nomination, ie. Verbal representation.  “To speak or write is not to say things or to express oneself, it is not a matter of playing with language, it is to make one’s way toward the sovereign act of nomination, to move, through language, towards the place where things and words are conjoined in their common essence, and which makes it possible to give them a name.”  Nomination was key because in the Classical period language was a main form of knowing; “it was only by the medium of language that the things of the world could be known” (296).   Language revealed truth. Therefore, in natural history, classification made possible through language became the dominant methodology, which created taxonomies that defined and ordered the natural world.  People understood the natural world only through language which represented it and revealed its true nature.


However, in the 19th century which designates the modern era,  language is demoted as it become divorced from representation; language was no longer thought to bring someone closer to knowledge/truth.  Instead, language became an object of science itself and what was revealed was that knowledge is both governed and paralyzed by language (298).  Language came to be studied in different ways:  by philologists who asserted language was formed and deposited by history; by formalists who identified universal forms of discourse; by those interested in interpretation who revealed hidden meaning and brought it to the surface; and by literary writers who viewed language as arising for its own sake (304).  With this demotion of language,  Classical episteme virtually disappeared.  The nature of language also became fragmented and as Foucault explains, Discourse as ordered and linear disappears.  Simultaneaously, the advent of man, both as object of knowledge and subject of knowing, appears on the epistemological scene.


 He then attempts to demonstrate shifts in episteme that led to the development of biology, political economy, and philology that appear at the beginning of the 19th century.  




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Donald Norman The Design of Everyday Things


Working from the assumption that design is an act of communication between designer and user and that in Western cultlure we live among objects of desire rather than objects of use, in The Design of Everyday Things, Norman focuses on helping his readers design objects that are understandable and usable.  Good designs he claims provide a good conceptual model and make things visible on side of action and evaluation.  As a cognitive scientist, Normal explains that whereas traditionally cognition was thought to be logical, rational, and orderly, cognition is now more or less envisioned as a connection or large web of neural processes.  Thus knowledge is acquired less by logical functioning than it is by associating patterns and information.  In order to create a good design, designers need to know how individuals will try to make associations to figure out how a product operates. Therefore, in order to make a good, user-centered design, designers should make sure user can figure out what to do and tell what is going on.  

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Elkins, James — Visual Studies

Visual Studies:  A Skeptical Introduction                                    James Elkins (art historian-School of Art                                                                                                                                      Institute of Chicago)


In Visual Studies:  A Skeptical Introduction, Elkins introduces readers to the emerging field of visual studies, interrogates the discipline’s current paradigm, and suggests ten ways in which the field could become more ambitious and rigorous.  Elkins is an art historian; he claims that that methodologically speaking, art history of all the disciplines plays the most productive role in visual studies.  However, he also challenges visual studies instructors to contemplate what it means to be visually literate and develop visual studies introductory courses that prepare students across the disciplines with general competencies.  Elkins strongly advocates for broadening studies of visual practices to include non-art images, including visual artifacts typically constrained by each of the disciplines including science, material studies, film, etc. 


Elkins begins by surveying the history of the field’s name, the academic locations in which it is taught , and the main publications in the field.  He distinguishes, for instance, between cultural studies, visual culture, and visual studies.  As he explains, visual culture studies is less Marxist and social justice oriented than cultural studies.  Visual culture studies also heavily draws on Barthes and Benjamin far more than traditional cultural studies.  Visual studies, on the other hand, at least as defined by Mitchell, conjoins art history, cultural studies, and literary theory to explore the “pictorial turn” in the academy.  NOTE, NO RHETORIC.  Elkins, however, see visual studies as denoting the “study of visual practices across all boundaries” (7).  Dikosvitskaya and others advocate and perpetuate culturally constructed notions of vision as the focus of visual studies (visual culture studies); Elkins, however, advocates for an “unconstricted, unanthropological” study of vision (7).  He describes how visual studies courses are offered in different departments across the globe, ranging from art, history, film studies to semiotics, visual communication, and philosophy and encourages a cross disciplinary approach to visual studies. 


Elkins also advocates for interrogating the foundational theories of visual studies such as the theory of the gaze and discusses the potentials of the “de-disciplinarity,” which like social history, studies the “everyday seeing” typically “‘bracketed out’ by the disciplines that conventionally address visuality” (29).  At the same time, however, he also discusses the interdisciplinary nature of the field and argues for a university wide competence in visual literacy, which encompasses a “knowledge of the relevant histories of images and their interpretation and a knowledge of particular parts of the full range of images and image-making practices” (30). 


In exploring the typical subjects of visual studies, Elkins identifies the most popular theorists and names in visual studies as well as the specific set of disciplinary interests (33).  The Canon, Elkins claim, can be articulated in the following formula:  “visual culture studies the sum of popular visual practices since the mid-twentieth century, with an admixture of contemporary fine art” (36).  Elkins suggests teaching students general methodologies that “allow visuality itself to be questioned and permits new kinds of questions to be asked that can’t be easily raised in conventional classes of art history, anthropology, or sociology” (39).  He wants to incorporate visual artifacts and methodologies from across the disciplines and various cultures.  He rejects the high and low visual art debate and advocates again for a general study of images, “capable of considering production, interpretation, and dissemination of images of all sorts” (61). 


Elkins also feels very strongly that the field of visual studies must become more ambitious and rigoruous.  He offers 10 ways in which if adopted visual studies could become more “difficult” and balanced between innovative subject matter and innovative theories and ideologies (63).  Essentially, he wants:  denser theories and strategies; more reflexivity about field’s own history; interrogation of existing visual theories; more attention to other related discipline’s theories and methodologies; more vigilance about its sense of visuality; less predictable politics, and less routine subject matters (65). 

Ten Ways to Make Visual Studies More Difficult:


  1. Make Marxist analysis, if you are going to do this work, more rigorous and revolutionary.  Self-interrogation about how visual studies is inculcated in technologized knowledge/power structures.
  2.  Be more particular about what kinds of “hidden meanings” or “preconcious meanings” in visual artifacts need to be uncovered and to emphasize the “kinds of awareness” that characterizes the “hidden meaning” in any given visual artifact. (73)
  3. Be more particular about what portions of visual world are appropriate and amenable to the field’s concerns (81).  
  4. Begin to explore non-western and non-art artifacts and visual practices. Move beyond social and political analysis.  Study full domain of images.
  5. Study visuality and vision from scientific and historical perspective rather than social-constructivist perspective, which offer alternative ways of seeing and thinking about seeing (89). 
  6. Move beyond Foucault, Benjamin to draw on other theories.  Yet also conduct more careful scholarship—if draw on Foucault and Benjamin, make sure only to use theories in same vein as originally intended or used.  Broaden understanding of these theoriesists theories.  Avoid applying them to broadly and using them when our scholarship diverges from ideas of original sources.  Don’t completely abandon, for that would unmoor discipline from its own history, but depend more on own voice and less on footnotes.
  7. Explore deeper history of the discipline.  Study antiquated collections, archives, theories, materials, artifacts, especially those outside the canon.
  8. Downplay visuality; make room for other senses.  Make sure object of study is particular to visual studies.
  9. Study non-western methodologies, practices, theories, and artifacts.  Here he asks important question:  “If the aim is to be increasingly vigilant about colonialism, Westerness, and multiculturalism, then how can it not be an ideal to write texts that employ Western and non-Western methodologies alternately or in concert, and texts whose sense of scholarly apparatus, narrative forms, and organization might be alternately Western or non-Western?” (111).  Also, let non-Western theories as well as writing forms serves as models.  Move beyond western tendency to  look at images from psychoanalytical lens.  Decolonize our methodologies!  Move beyond western theories of perception. 
  10.  Write ambitiously—know entire field; think and respond to existing literature—challenge it; write as well as you can—hah!


Defining Visual Literacy:


Wants us to think more deeply about what it means to be “visually litearate.”  We need to offer undergraduates with specific visual competencies and particular sets of visual knowledge that will help them succeed in whatever major they find themselves (127). 


Elkins demystifies notion that we are living in most visually prolific era in history.  He agrees with what Martin Jay calls “Cartesian perspectivalism”—capable of assimilating unprecendented amounts of information” (130) but questions whether the 20th century was as focused on visuality as we think it was and whether we have lost ability to conduct deep analysis of images that requires long, focused study.  He also wonders even though we live in information age that we really haven’t studied the connection between the information age and the visual as much as we should. 


He asks what is meant by visual literacy?


Ability to recognize image as image?

Abiltity to understand pictorical content, significance, and use of image?

Capacity to identify image and classify according to ways they refer to world?

Capacity to remember images?  Or comprehend connection between image and memory?

Recognize “culturally significant” visual artifacts that act as cultural capital?

Toolbox of interpretations?

Critical understanding of social functions and effects of visual artifacts and role on their complicity in hegemonic power structures?

Ability to deduce intentional operations of artifact?


He really doesn’t offer an answer but instead explores what images and image-making practices a visually literate undergraduate should encounter and be able to understand as well as what kinds of interpretation and understanding they should know?


Elkins makes an important point that every field has its own “particular competence, which it sometimes takes as a general orientation, applicable to all image-making practices” (147).  He says students should be exposed to wide variety of competences from across the disciplines, especially science and material studies, as well as images and ways of seeing.  In addition, students should have opportunities to make images and study digital imagery and their special effects as well as graphics and design and a wide range of architectural spaces.  He really advocates for a wide range of essential image-making practices and interpretations (189).  At the same time, he thinks we need to establish a “common pool of images that university wide program of visual studies might want to share,” yet not “construe such a collection as an emblem of some general visual literacy” (195).


Visual studies needs to be generative as well as reactive! (200).  Expand the repertoire of images and theories!


Interesting questions from the image descriptions:


p. 14—Is there a kind of visuality to simple, too informal, to be studied?


Questions to Think about:

What does it mean to teach visual rhetoric?  What is visual rhetoric?  Visual rhetoric is subset of visual studies and rhetoric.  How do we define visual literacy in our field? 


The Rhetoric of Vision—-is that what visual rhetorics means?


How does Western perspective shape visuality—the rhetoric of vision! 


The effect must be to subvert but not the cause……


I need to quit talking and do…..


Visual historiography…..  


Joseph Cornell….





Material historiography…..Dissertation Topic….I have a career!!!!


James Burke—innovation leads to other innovations….










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Urban, Greg. Metaculture: How Cultures Move through the World


In this text, Urban uses the framework of circulation to investigate the ways in which culture is socially transmitted.  Urban is especially interested in the role that self-reflexivity plays in the definition and the transmission of culture.  In other words, he is interested in the role that metaculture plays in the acceleration of culture and the creation of new culture in capitalist societies.   As such, he demonstrates that culture does not just move through replication or what he identifies as existential or habitual inertia.  Culture is also made possible by two modes of circulation:  acceleration and deceleration > dissemination. As Urban explains, through acceleration, old cultural elements are fused into new cultural expressions, which form new wholes (32).  Urban argue that what drives acceleration is actually metaculture, either via emphasis on tradition or newness (38).



Key Questions: 

  • What makes culture move and reshapes social space?  Existential and habitual inertia (culture sensu lato) harnessed by accelerative  and deeclerative culture that stimulates novel production, in which new entities that resemble past ones manifest through assemblance.   Culture survives not just because of inertia.  It survives because it is able to overcome the [entropic and competitive] forces of deceleration that act upon inertia [and accelerate] (17-18). 
  • What is relationship between metaculture and culture?  Reciprocity.


Key concepts:


Metaculture:  culture about culture; provides ways of seeing continuities and disconuities in all social processes; includes judgments made about culture that form “the normative core for the creation of community and reproduction of culture (xi); a form of self-reflexivity that frames semiosis; supplemant to culture (4); as interpretation, it is a force in the world of perceptible things, not just an arbitrary conscious representation of things construed as indifferent to their representation (37). Guides future movement of culture-208; set of cultural elements and objects, such as discourse, with the ability to represent or portray or refer to cultural elements and objects—carries idea bout culture; maintains physical shapes of immaterial culture as it is reoroduced over time; idea imparts a force to the culture it is about- 224-5; carries forth interest in object without direct access to object- 226; its  second layer of circulation that constitutes force of culture-226;


Pierce—rhetoric is the process by which “signs give birth to other signs” (xi).


Culture:  social learning accumulated through space and time; something abstract and immaterial moving through time and across space -203


Key Quotes: 


The interpretation of culture that is intrinsic to metaculture, immaterial as it is, focuses attention on the culture al thing, helps to make it an object of interest, and, hence, facilitates its circulation (4).


The movement of culture takes place in ghost-like fashion, with [novel entity] incarnating various aspects of different kinds of prior expressions, yet seeming to be new (6).


Modernity propels culture in a different manner than does “tradition” but that, even under and explicit metaculture of modernity, the linear movement is still detectable through probing fine details.  The kind of movement that modernity stimulates—the movement of a system of relationships through us—is crucial to the reproduction of culture in what Walter Benjamin (1969) called “the age of mechanical reproduction” (6). 


Social spaces is reconfigured, however incrementally or radically, by the motion associated with specific cultural objects (24).


Cultural elements communicate a sense of shared participation in a single space, and these elements, which must be widely circulated, make hegemony possible (25). 


Structure is not prior to movement; it is a derivative of movement.  Structure is a consequence of the way in which cultural elements move through space and time.  It is the result of combination of the inertial and accelerative properties of culture (32).


Culture and metaculture are dynamically interconnected through representation, which does not reflect what something is but rather affects change of that something (38).


Culture is motion…and physical manifestations such as cultural objects make culture as motion possible (42). Cultural objects are vehicles for the dissemination of culture (42).   Dissemination is the externalization or making public or intersubjectively accessible; internalization is the making the physical abstract—the dynamic interrelation between these two processes as manifested in dissemination and replication make culture move through time and space (43).

Externalization> internalization > reexternaliztion > internaliztion > rexternalization (etc).


Various pathways of motion make this movement possible.  Material culture, as physical manifestations of cultural learning, is one such pathway.  Immaterial culture is carried through material culture (45).  Yet transmission of the fullest measure of immateriacl culture contained win the thing can only be had  by close observation and interaction with with the actual producer(s) of the thing..during the course of its production (45).  Greatest quantity of immaterial cultures is transmitted through propinquity, that is, through spatio-temporal proximity of the producer(or externalizer) and the internalizer  (or future replicator) (45). 


Dissemination, as a social pathway or network, is made possible by social learning (via socially learned patterns) (48). 


We need to look at at the motion of culture through the world as it is replicated, ie. at sites of replication (55). 


Metaculture of modernity is what enables or facilitates the motion of the new disseminated cultural element into previously uncharted territory (58).  Metaculture of modernity is the value of newness over oldness; of dissemination over replication; of experiencing newness (64). 


Culture of dissemination: valuing lateral motion of material items, not replication; valuing of newness (novel production of cultural expression); goal is spatial spread of culture, not just temporal (66). 


***The purpose of a metaculture of modernity is to assist in the establishment of new social pathways of dissemination (67).  New social pathways are created in confrontation between old and new (69).  Capitalism as we know it is a product of the movement of culture driven by a metaculture of newness (74). 


Question:  What role does rhetoric play in the replication of disseminable culture?  What role does the metaculture of conservation and/or sustainability play in the motion of U.S. culture? 


Who are “we”?  The consciousness embedded in the answer…accelerates culture, propelling it through space and time, shapting he course of civliztion as it moves every onward—into the fog (92) 


Cultural transmission is achieved through synthesis of distinct strands resulting from the challenging of prior elements or the attempt to produce elements that are “better” (171).


Motion in culture of modernity is driven by acceleration which is driven by resistence to imperatives within narratives and emphasis on production of new cultural elements (176).


Innovators plays a key role in cultural motion; the innovator is an intersection between two lines motion: the historical motion of consciousness from person to person to over time and space and the movement of something from the world into the consciousness that beholds it (184). 


Vertical passage takes place between two planes or layers of circulation:  culture and metaculture, which is passage between thing in world and consciousness of it as encoded in thing (185).


Value of cultural object determined by its link with tradition and newness; newness determined through comparison of with other similar objects mediated through third object and determined by public response (metaculture) (196). Determined thus by dialogic between other object and response (198).


Metaculture maps the movement of culture across time and space; genre is device for tracking cross-temporal connections (202).


Cultural motion demands death of old object and rebirth of new object—metamorphisis (208)


Cultural object of tradition demands no investigation of intention where as new objects do because replication is not transparent -214  new cultural objects also demand investigation of truth and appropriateness of context in metaculture of modernity since it can carry new claims and thus in part is factor determining wide circulation (218-220)


Cultural motion demands response from public –222  pathway of motion is cultural object > metacultural response > new cultural object – 240


Metaculture of tradition demands replication; newness dissemination


Movement of culture takes place between layers of circulation: culture and metaculture -227


Think of this motion as tides; metacultural tides; cylical in nature between tradition and modern; cultural elements ebb back and forth between replication and dissemination; objects participate in microcyclicity, as the absence of the prior thing provides the motivation to reproduce it- 229-230


As the tide of newness spreads, as it enters the flood stage, it reorganizes not only the motion of culture though the world…but also the social relations of the people among whom culture moves; an ideas is a world-making – 244


Too pervasive of metaculture of newness produces feelings of loss that motivate desire to stabalize sensivle world, give it an air of permanence, through traditional replication –232  result is phantasmagorical succession of sensible objects that lacks the feel of continuity and stability of a olid, orderly world.  Consequently, is widespread proliferation as metaculture calls up a force that counteracts it—the feeling of instability that engenders a desire for tradition in the form of replication – 232  at same time, feelings of boredom arise which create desire for newness and entrepreneurs come to the rescue– 232


Classification of taste of objects drives metaculture of newness; spawns competion and classification of people – 234


Cultural objects are a once and future thing—predicting or foreseeing futre objets ,and contributing to the metacultural framework—the precipitated past-through which those future objects will be judged – 236


The public sphere—as critical reflection on culture by ordinary people– results from the mediation of cultural motion by metaculture – 242


Assessment of new objects drive culture of newness; assesement requires critical orientation to culture; thus matacutlural production becomes specialized and public turns over responsibility for judging cultural objects to specialized people and thus become consumers rather than producers of metaculture – 245


Metacultural creates guidelines for the production of new cultural objets, strands through which culture flows – 247; strands reflect consistent, shred segmetnations, derving fromteh interation between the attept to produce a new object and th metacultrual method through which new objects are assessed- 247


Value of new object determined by past and future circulation’



Nation constituted by people with share affinity to cultural objects; cultural objects engeneder loyalty. This persuasive or rhetorical power of objects propels them through space along existing pathways of dissemination.  It also helsms them to penetrate uncharted territory, where thy must cute their own new paths, being in these, world-making.  Perhsuasive power als sercures the persistence in time of the objects, which become venerated.  The objects instill in indifiduals  sdieire to preserve them and also to insure their cintiued high esteem.  256  THIS SHEDS LIGHT ON HOW CULTURAL OBJECTS PLAY A ROLE IN NATION BUILDING!


Replication is based on spatial and temporal contiguity of the participant in the trasmission process…There are always incipient spatial distinction is the prominence of disseminated cultural objects.  – 258


Nation simultaneously broadens the sphere of the local and narrows the sphere of the global – 259


The very culture on which you and I might reflect to find essences is itself continuosly changing shape.  Its mercuriality and ephemerality defy essentialization – 260


Culture cannot do without things—those things are its manifestations in the material realm.  By fixing its manifesttins, culture converst iself into tconsisten material shapes; it becomes recognizable to the senses and to the intellect. Yet culture is only moving through those material shapes, invisibly, silently.  It is only disclosing itself to us, giving us an inkling of its awesome force 261  THIS EXPLAINS WHY CULTURAL OBJECTS ARE MEDIATORS.


My job is to trace immaterial cultural patterns manifested in the material world ; these patterns are concealed in the phantasmagoria of the material (264).


The producer controls the shapes of the disseminated object, but the receiver controls the demand for that object’s dissemination. The result is that conscious accelerative forces that could be used to change the direction of the cultural motion is typically used to maintain it.  …culture harnesses consciousness for the purposes of reproducing itself as abstract, immaterial form by insisting on changes in its sensible appearance- 265


Movement of metaculture produces a  a tracking of the movement of culture, and it produces a cumulative understanding of it.  the restless metaculture itself that makes contact with objects, that directs attention to their discrete facets, that reveals their truth, their continuities and discontinuities of the past – 268


Need to study the corportation that produces a new object – 270  the corporation carries the metaculture for making the object and for foreseeing how well it will work at the cultural plane- 270


Producers of culture cannot simulataneously be receiver of cultural object produced to want to disguise the continuity of the idea that is carried in the object formt he phyxial appearance of the objects itself.  – 271


Matter > meaning> matter







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Van Leeuwen, Theo — Introducing Social Semiotics

Theo Van Leeuwen  Introducing Social Semiotics


In this introduction to social semiotics, Van Leeuwen presents a rich discourse to describe the ways in which various semiotic resources communicate in specific locations and practices.  In addition, Part I offers practical methods by which students can begin to explore the various uses of semiotic resources, identify semiotic rules, trace semiotic change, and analyze the function of various artifacts. In Part II, Van Leeuwen introduces the key dimensions of semiotic analysis,w hich are always part of every communicative event and every semiotic artefact.   More specifically, Van Leeuwen provides students with the basic tools in which they can begin to study the use of a plurality of discourses in various social practices, and analyze multimodal communicative acts through an examination of genre, style, modality, rhythm, and composition.  Finally, this text introduces students to principles of verbal and visual linking, which constitute different forms of communicative acts, so students can study the ways in which the verbal and the visual interact to make meaning and affect change.  In the final chapter, Van Leeuwen introduces concepts that will help students analyze various forms of dialogue.


Key Concepts:


Social semiotics:

  1. studies the ways in which people use semiotic resources both to produce communicative artifacts and to interpret them in the context of specific social situations and practices
  2. compares and contrasts semiotic modes
  3. studies ways in which semiotic resources are regulated in specific locations and practices
  4. practice of analysis and observations to discover new semiotic resources
  5. Mode of enquiry based on Halliday’s social semiotic view of language
  6. Reads all artifacts as texts
  7. Does not study what signs stands for but how it is used


Semiotic resources:  the actions and artifacts used to communicate, whether produced physiologically or technologically (1)


Semiotic potential:  potential for making meaning


Affordance:  potential uses of a given object


Modality:  concept through which semioticians study how people use semiotic resources to create the truth or reality values of their representations, to communicative whether they should be taken as true or false


Multimodal:  combination of different semiotic modes in one communicative event or artefact



Key Quotes:


Social semioticians are in the business of:

  • Inventorizing semiotic resources and investigating how they are used in specific contexts
  • Discover and develop new semiotic resources and new ways of using them. 
  • Inventorizing different types of rules, taken up in different ways in different contexts
  • Analyzing the various ways semiotic resources are used through analysis of discourse, genre, style, and modality in which they are used.

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Stafford, Barbara Maria — Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting

In Visual Analogy, Stafford attempts to resuscitate the visual method of analogy and encourage her postmodern readers to realize the numerous and valuable potentials of seeing same-ness in difference.  She turns toward images themselves to explain the nature and function of the analogical procedure that takes place in our consciousness.  For as she explains, there is a (lost) link between visual images and concepts, the intuitive ways in which we think simply by visualizing” (61).  In addition, Stafford demonstrates how allegory or disanalogy as method overtook analogy as method at the turn of the 19th century.  As she explains, with Romanticism came the stubborn “obsession with unbridgeable imparity and the hieratic insistence on insurmountable distance between the material and spiritual realms, resulting in skepticism (61).  In fact, Stafford claims, the rise of allegory, evident in the art of the 19th century, “marks a larger cultural shift.  The allegorical turn is closely allied to the spread of cynicism, the ironization of social conventions from top to bottom that intensified during and after Enlightenment” (71).  It marks a “historical turn away from analogy’s combinatorial strategy to embrace allegory’s reification of independent and unbridgeable modes of experience” (84). 


Stafford attempts to recuperate analogy by tracing the role and function of analogy in philosophical, metaphysical and religious thought across Western history. As she explains, “Analogy—whether in myth, philosophy, religion, history, or aesthetics—grappled with the problem of how to conjoin an accumulated body of practices to the shifting present and elusive future” (133). Analogy was generative because an artful combination always arose when mixing to preexisting elements and, in turn, “transformation always arose at the intersection of constancy with instability, coupling continuity with discontinuity” (133). Analogy enabled resurrection and reconciliation and for this reason, we need to embrace analogy as method once again.  For Stafford insists that in our modern age of otherness, detachment and disconnectedness, which started with Romanticism, we  “have no language for resemblance” (10). We need, Stafford argues, to both retrieve and to construct a more nuanced picture of resemblance and connectedness” (9).  After all, “without a sophisticated theory of analogy, there is only the negative dialectics of difference, ending in the unbreachable impasse of pretended assimiliation or the self-enclosed insistence on absolute identity with no possibility for meaningful communication” (51). Not to mention, electronic commerce demands analogical thinking.


Stafford concludes by pointing out the role that visual arts can play in addressing contemporary efforts in cognitive science to understand connective and intuitive aspects of cognition.   For instance, collage, Stafford claims, helps us “see ourselves mentally laboring to combine many shifting and conflicting perceptions into a unified representation” and thus can serve as a “particularly effective technique for capturing the chimera of consciousness in action” (144 and 146).   In addition, she claims that art “makes visible both the compositional hard wiring as well as the emotional cloudiness of thought colliding with recalcitrant matter” (179).    In affect, while “analogy has something specific to add to the digital revolution and the so-called end of linear thinking” (178); art can “help us discover not only how the mind seeks out and binds clear with fuzzy arrangemtns, or manages to synthesize the vast quantitites of chaotic data with which we are increasingly unindated, but how time and gain, it stitches our mutable, compound selves into a single self in periods of consciousness” (179).  “High level imagery,” in other words, “not only demonstrates the intelligence in perception but makes us aware of the myriad ways in which we become aware” (182). 


Stafford concludes by reminding readers that analogy as method can perform like Latour’s propositions, which are offers “extended by one body or thing to another inviting it to relate in a new manner” (183).  Analogy as method exposes gaps in information, which are opportunities for “interweaving the specialized knowledge of individual cases with more general principles” (184).  “Analogy,” Stafford believes, “can still help us see how to get from here to there” (184). 

Key Questions Addressed:


What methods are useful in study visual culture?  What use is the study of visual culture for the cognitive sciences?  How can analogy be generative as methodology when studying visual culture?  Why has analogy lost its pivotal role in the academy and why should it be recuperated? 



Key Concepts:


Analogy– “vision of ordered relationships articulated as similartity-in-difference” (9).  Analogy is useful because it allows us to “travel back into history, to spring forward in time, to leap across continents” (11).  Analogy “is a demonstrative or evidentiary practice—putting the visible into relationship with the invisible and manifesting the effect of that momentary unison” (23).  Analogy is key to discernment or perceptual judgment because it has an “uncanny visual capacity to bring divided things into unison or span the gap between the contingent and the absolute” (28).  Transforms by nuanced degrees of distinction; its efficacy “consists not simply in communicating what already exists but, like consciousness, in visibly bringing forth what, in fact, it communicates” (175).  Offers a “nonalgorithmic technique for binding our perceptual system to our cognitive system, expressed in terms of similarities and antithesis” (176).  


Allegory (type of disanalogy)—emphasis on characteristics that two or more items do not share; belongs to class of rhetorical devices with two main traits:  exploitation of difference and pursuit of obscurity (63);  reifies dissimilarity;  transforms by absolute difference;


Seeing—being struck that something is, or can be, connected to something else. 


Key Quotes:


Romanticism’s essentially nonvisual, dissective procedure [of allegory] expressed the isolation, intense interdependence, and resulting disconnectedness from the rest of creation felt by by two things or discrete individuals joined in a tenuously exclusive union- 19 the refusal to discriminate among competing characteristics glorified the failure to even attempt such a struggle–61

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On Perspective…Elkins, Panofsky, Crary

Panofsky, Erwin  Perspective as Symbolic Form


In Perspective as Symbolic Form, Panofsky traces the transformation of perspective in art from antiquity to modernity.  As Panofsky explains, Renaissance perspective systemized space on the canvas.  The mathematization or rationalization of space on the canvas, which utilized a central vanishing point on the canvas originating from a singular eye, is what gives rise to perspective during the Renaissance, according to Panofsky.  Before the Renaissance, artists were not cognizant of perspective; during the Renaissance, however, perspective became a conscientious means to overcome the distortions of medieval art.  As such, perspective became dependent not only on rules and laws but on “point of view.”  More so, perspective as symbolic form became a means of ordering  a visual phenomenon. Panofsky also argues that the differing versions of perspective “are expressive of the cultures that invented them” (Elkins 15).  For instance, where as the ancient Greek perspective was an expression of a subjective world, the Renaissance perspective was a record of an objective world (Elkins 21).  Thus, perspective, according to Panofsky, is culturally relative.


Elkins, James.  The Poetics of Perspective


In The Poetics of Perspective, Elkins distinguishes between two distinct conceptions of perspective:  perspective as method and perspective as metaphor.  Elkins explains that perspective as method, technique, strategy for making pictures, has gone largely unexamined and from the artists point of view, has become virtually invisible. On the other hand, much modern scholarly work, including Panofsky’s, entails metaphorical conceptions of perspective, which conceive of perspective as  “a sign signifying a mental state, a culture, or an expressive language” and representing a worldview (17). The modern conception of perspective is based on two tropes:  point of view and space.  Also, “the idea of perspective [as metaphor] is inseperable from active thought so that to conceive one is to think through the other” (30). 


Elkins traces the varying approaches of deploying metaphorical perspective and  concludes that “these approaches impose a conceptual unity on a subject that has traditionally been resistant to that very possibility” (38).  In reality, Elkins claims that a study of the various and historical accounts of perspective demonstrates a dissonant, unclear, and disjointed conception and deployment of perspective while simultaneously there has existed a desire for clarity and coherence (40).  Elkins is less interested in these metaphorical accounts, however,  than he is the “meaningless” once.  He thus turns to trace the accounts of perspective as method through historical treaties on perspectives as well as art, mainly paintings.  His work illustrates that perspective as a discipline has never been unified; that a historical and conceptual unity of perspective during the Renaissance did not exist nor did an overarching interest in orderly content or uniformity or obeyance of rules; and that, in fact, during the Renaissance, perspective was conceived more as “a kind of experimentation in the ruins of mathematics” (116).  There is, in other words “no coherent history, no connected tradition, beneath the word” perspective (214).  Our desire to unify “Renaissance perspective” is simply an indication of “our insistence on the monolithic unity of perspective: it is more than an interpretative strategy or a historical bias: it is part of how we perceive modernism itself” (180).


This actuality, Elkins claims, illustrates something very important about historiography that is relevant, I think, to our own field:  


            -“many writers have not thought it relevant to research the history of their questions” -215

            -“modern writing on perspective is rehearsing a desire that cannot be accommodated” -215  IS CULTURAL RHETORICS REHEARSING A DESIRE THAT CANNOT BE ACCOMODATED?

            -our unwillingness to explore what really lies beneath concepts we take for granted reflects our need not to know and are guided by the boundaries of reflexivity- 216  WHAT CONCEPTS IN OUR FIELD DO WE TAKE FOR GRANTED?  THAT REFLECT OUR NEED NOT TO KNOW?  THAT NEED TO BE DEC ONSTRUCTED?

            -“we need to begin to address the desire itself instead of remaining within our accustomed genres and keeping to their conventional modes of allusion and reference” – 216.  RHETORIC AS……THIS TEXT SHOULD BE WRITTEN WITH THIS GOAL IN MIND. 


Elkins concludes that questions and answers about perspective have become static and thus offers suggestions for future scholarship that are also relevant to our own field:


            -Being aware of our need to define orgin might modify our desire to keep exploring the same problems (263). 


            -New constellations of disciplines would have unpredictable effects on our narratives and the meanings we assign to pictures (264).  HERE IS WHY A MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO RHETORICAL STUDIES IS SO KEY.




            -Address “perspective” in terms of history of disciplines (265)


            -overall, study the various ways of talking about perspective, its disciplinary relations, and its force in our thinking about modernism and history (268).


            -ask ourselves:  What meanings do we create, and which do we exclude, by approaching perspective only to a certain distance and from certain directions?  (269).


Elkins final points:  “Perspective directs our eyes and orders our thoughts…perspective seems to control no ony what I see—it sets the conditions of visibility—but how I see and how I describe the way I see….writing about perspective is like struggling in a spider web…”(272).  We need to begin to realize how deeply we are caught…





Key Quotes:


The supposedly objective , unified world posited by science, according to Nietszche, is only a skin of collective agreement, something made by an aggregate of like-minded points of view….perspective is a manifestation of the will to power and that it is ‘nothing more than a complex form of specificity.’ It is complex because the single, ‘specific’ agents band together in their desire to remake the world in their own images…” (21). 


Once the concept of perspectival metaphor underwent the subtle and mysterious change that allowed it to be experienced as a metaphor, it spread unchecked into much of our language and thought, and in some ways perspectival metaphors are so unimaginably unmanageable that they can no longer form a topic of philosophic inquiry at all -29. 


Opting for clarity in a subject evidently constituted by chaos is a way of engaging a certain violence of interpretation that is not connected to the sometimes ragged boundaries between perspective’s disciplines- 38.


A kind of perspective in seeing, Nietzsche thought, was mistakenly made “the cause of seeing,” resulting in “ the invention of the ‘subject,’ the ‘I’” – 39.


Perspective is the site of the legislation of seeing, but it has nevr operated under a single verdict or binding rule – 80.


Our generation reads more meaning into positions and “states” of the viewer, gazes, mirrors, reflected and refracted seeing, and their permutations than past generations seem to have – 119


Our repetitious writing could be reinterpreted as the classic symptom of unslaked desire, and our unwillingness to write differently could be reimagind as the necessary repression of whatever might run contrary to the desire – 267


Crary, Jonathan  Techniques of the Observer:  On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century


As Crary plainly states in the first line of Techniques of the Observer, “this is a book about vision and its historical construction” (1).  More specifically, however, this book is an investigation into the reorganization of vision that occurred in the first half of the 19th century.  By tracing some of the disciplinary, economic, and social events that produced “crucial ways in which vision was discussed, controlled, and incarnated in cultural and scientific practices” (7) during this time, Crary identifies the forces at work that produced a new kind of observer (2-3).  As Crary explains, the reorganization of vision resulted from “a new set of relations between the body on the one hand and forms of institutional and discursive power on the other” hand–relations he describes elsewhere as discursive, social, technological, and institutional (3).  These relations were in and of themselves constructed by “a massive reorganization of knowledge and social practices that modified in myriad ways the productive, cognitive, and desiring capacities of the human subject (3).  As Crary explains, “the same knowledge that allowed the increasing rationalization and control of the human subject in terms of new institutional and economic requirements was also a condition for new experiments in visual representation” (9).  Because “new modes of circulation, communication, production, consumption, and rationalization all demanded and shaped a new kind of observer,” (14) the observing subject was both a product and constitutive of “modernity” itself (9).  


Crary sets his site (no pun intended) on the observer because “the observer is the field on which vision in history can be said to materialize” (5).  For as Crary explains, vision can’t be separated from “an observing subject who is both the historical product and the site of certain practices, techniques, institutions, and procedures of subjectification” (5). 

To demonstrate a shift in the observing subject that occurred during the early 19th century, Crary sets his site on optical devices such as the camera obscura and the stereoscope, which he identifies as “points of intersection where philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic discourses overlap with mechanical techniques, institutional requirements, and socioeconomic forces” (8).  Whereas the camera obscura was both a metaphor and a mediator for objective vision, detached from the body, able to unify and give order to true reality and thus act as a form of knowing, the stereoscope, which reconnected the optical with bodily senses, became a metaphor and mediator for subjective vision, dependent on the body and  able to construct knowledge, even if there was no longer a unifying logic and order to reality anymore since all knowledge was thought to be subjective.  The type of vision modeled and conditioned by the camera obscura—linear optical system, fixed positions, identification of perspection and object—became outdated and too inflexible with arising conditions of modernity (137).    As Crary explains, “ a more adaptable, autonomous, and productive observer was needed in both discourse and practice—to conform to new functions of the body and to a vast proliferation of indifferent and convertible signs and images” (149). 


Crary concludes by explaining that as a result of vision becoming relocated in subjectivity of the observer, two overlapping and intersecting paths opened up: 

a.)   multiple affirmations of the sovereignty and autonomy of vision

b.)   standardization and regulation of the observer  that issued from knowledge of visionary body toward forms of power that depended on abstraction and formalization of vision (150). 




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