PCA: Tech Comm, Visual Rhetoric

Reconfiguring “Visual Rhetoric” for Technical Writing
Carlos Salinas, University of Texas-El Paso

This is a live blogging of the session.

Salinas and I discussed the “floodgate” of attendees from PCA who would NOT be coming to the presentation. I told him that I thought that the title of tech comm. was off putting to some. He agreed, listing off groups where techies would be: gaming, cinema, etc. I said I thought the facebook paper would be intriguing to folks and he suggested perhaps we should add “social media” to the title. I think that would work next year. I’ll have to think about how I use social media in my tech writing classroom so I can submit.

Most of what I am going to talk about, I am going to read to you. Read for 10 or 15 minutes and then a couple of things to show you.

What I am reading to you: arguing that there is a problem with the term visual rhetoric
tend to think of visual images as representations, as illustrations, as displays
should be thinking of them as heuristics or presentations

Images are important to English studies.
Literary and media critics look at paintings and photographs, movies, etc.
Political, social, and cultural systems have also been looked at. Icons, etc
Verbal imagery long study for rhetoric and poets
Visual perception and thinking studied by psych folks

Visual rhetoric

Increasingly rely on images
preferred mode of communication

JT Crest
Cindy Stone

tech change in image

Why is the image at issue? What is at issue for whom?
Rhet and comp, cultural studies, tech studies = visual rhetoric

Visual rhetoric problems:
terminologically unwieldy
forces us to re-examine (domains, terms, theories, practices)

Hill and Helmers’ argument:
Defining Visual Rhetorics
(a collection of essays)
by Hill and Helmers

H&H want individual scholars to present their own definitions.

Folks want studies, not long definitions.
(And he said “I’m giving lengthy definition.” lol)

Visual rhetoric:

suggest should be less-structured, incoherence, kairos

H&H disciplinary conventions constrain by boundaries and lack of acceptance
it may be too soon to settle on an accepted practice

word privileged over image to point where words and pictures are divided
Every person submitting to the essays said they cannot be divided so clearly. Discourse is used to respond to and interpret images.

Salinas’ plan:
Problematize or re-problematize visual rhetoric.
Discuss the production of images.

Look at a particular image, one of the oldest in existence:
Image of cave painting from the caves in France

Used a teeny tiny image. It’s a thumbnail. I have no idea what part of the cave painting it is. I taught those cave paintings this semester, so I ought to be able to recognize it, but I can’t.

1. We need to talk about it.
2. Conference that claimed image was visual rhetoric. I doubted that the cave painters were thinking about rhetoric.

How can a cave painting be an example of visual rhetoric?
You can examine it in terms of rhetoric, but was rhetoric used in its creation?
I can argue about what it says now, what I think the frame is, how I think it influenced/spoke to its original audience, an interpretation frame…
But all these critical approaches concentrate on analysis, not production.

From our time, we can see this as visual rhetoric. But doubtful that the creators thought of/used visual rhetoric.

I think that they may indeed have intended visual rhetoric.

Sullivan and Porter in Opening Spaces and others…
Write about mapping as a rhetorical way of scholarship
Mapping uses visual material, but is not meant to be a representation of a process. Seeks to portray theories, fields, definitions, disciplinary boundaries, ideologies…. Maps work heuristically. They are used to start, but are not the thing itself. Maps encourage heuristics and can be revised. Visual and spatial, though some say can involve (or should involve) time.
To the extent that the map is meant to be interpreted, the interpretation is often presented in words.
EX: stasis theory

Tech difficulties. The screen isn’t working for the computer.

Images: “How our laws are made” a map in orange, blue, green, yellow, with a light green background… How bill becomes a law. … Color to represent stages… A complex map, but still a representation, not a heuristic map.

by Mike Wirth, see his other work at www.mikewirthart.com

Edward Tuffney’s (web says Charles Minard’s) famous map of Napoleon’s march, but still a representation, but not a heuristic.

Student sample of a heuristic map: “What the material was about” with metaphor of a chemical compound
Mapping the dominance of scientific discourse, with various different fields and various different methodologies.

The student used the map as a starting point to clarify thinking and presentation.
It is a presentation or heuristic of the student’s understanding of this field, ideology, …

Graphic was small. Listserv was where cave painting pic came from.

What am I looking for if I am looking at heuristic versus representation?

respresentation: re-presents, an illustration, a diagram

heuristic: starting point, way of articulating what our thinking is, meant to be the invention of argument

Read in an article, about Archimedes, abstract geometry of Greeks… Puts us into abstract thinking… What Archimedes would do, was he would talk about his mathematical ideas on his belly. “This given point A” was a way to spark his thinking… He wasn’t talking about his belly… but the mathematic… Abstract becomes very concrete.

Metaphor is a way to take an abstract thought and give it concrete.

Did the cave painting serve as a heuristic to prompt you to think about visual rhetoric?
Think about idea maps, outlines, tree, mindmaps… Meant to initiate start thinking…

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