Readings, and Related Inspirations

Leave a comment

A Quick Dip in the Visual Rhetoric Pool – 8150

I lieu of writing out a whole response on the topic of Visual Rhetorics, I am instead making my annotated bibliography available here in digital form.

Please let me know if you have any further questions. Or feel free to continue the conversation we have in class here on my blog.

Visual Rhetoric Annotated Bibliography


Leave a comment

Ideographs and the Body – 8150

In his paper “The ‘Ideograph‘: A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology,” Michael McGee introduces the idea of the ideograph: an abstract word, or set of words that “signify and ‘contain’ a unique ideological commitment” (7).

Some of my personal favorite ideographs are


It is extremely interesting to me that this image comes up first when I image search 'freedom' on google - I may need to do a follow-up analysis. Taken from

It is extremely interesting to me that this image comes up first when I image search ‘freedom’ on google – I may need to do a follow-up analysis.
Taken from


This looks more like wrestling than equality to me.... taken from

This looks more like wrestling than equality to me…. taken from


So what Thoreau is saying is that he has NO idea what happiness is - taken from

So what Thoreau is saying is that he has NO idea what happiness is – taken from

McGee covers the first two a little (I’m still trying to decide what ‘equality’ would wear if it walked up my driveway), but I add the last because I find it to be a fascinating part of life – it’s in the United States Constitution – ‘pursuit of happiness.’ We all have a right to that. But what the heck is it? I’m told I’m supposed to want children because I have a womb. Incorrect. That sounds horrifying to me. Kids leak from their faces and don’t care. No thank you.

As you can tell, I take a little contention with the ideograph ‘happiness.’ But McGee tells us that the ideograph begins with an ‘ideology’ – a concept that “has atrophied” (1). So if ideology has atrophied… how do we get to the bottom of ideographs like ‘happiness’?

Arguing against the notion that there is some kind of collective consciousness (and I wonder what Bitzer thought about this), McGee tells us that “Materialists… seem to use the concept ‘ideology’ expressly to warrant normative claims regarding the exploitation of the ‘proletarian class’ by self-serving plunderers” (3).

This is where I get confused.

As McGee continues to tell us about Materialists, he then introduces symbolists who ask “how the human symbol-using, reality-creating potential impinges on material reality, ordering it normatively, ‘mythically'” (3). But… in another article we read for this week, “Reading Maternity Materially: The Case of Demi Moore,” by Barbara Dickson, “material rhetoric is a mode of interpretation that takes as its object of study the significations of material things and corporal entities” (297). Dickson differentiates material rhetoric from cultural materialism which “is primarily interested in identifying the interactions between cultural and material production, the contradictions between the two, and how those contradictions lead to changes in the relations between the two” (298). I think I need help with my ‘isms’ here. Is Dickson’s piece more of a symbolist argument according to McGee, then?

Dickson tells us that she derives her materialist views from Walter Benjamin, and Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, two decidedly visual scholars (though in different ways).

My question then becomes, how does the work that Dickson is doing here (visual materialism??) and materialism as McGee discusses it overlap?

Does Dickson’s piece, specifically her discussion of the multiple and multilayered responses to the Demi Moore cover photo,

The Vanity Fair cover photo in question - taken from

The Vanity Fair cover photo in question – taken from

confirm McGee’s notion that there is no mass consciousness “because ‘truth’ in politics, no matter how firmly we believe, is always an illusion” (4)?

Can we then extend McGee to talk about politics of the body? Can I talk about ideographs such as ‘beauty,’ or ‘perfection’?

Let’s see what happens when I image search these…

Someone probably paid for this to come up first -

Someone probably paid for this to come up first –

I'm pretty sure this has more to do with my filter than anything else. - taken from

I’m pretty sure this has more to do with my filter than anything else. – taken from

I’m pretty sure no two people who read this entry will have the same idea of what these concepts entail. Does that further prove McGee’s claim that cultural consciousness cannot exist?

If this is the case – and if it’s so easy to illustrate – why does it perpetuate?

Leave a comment

Last Night I Thought Of Benjamin

Last night I heard a sound I immediately mistook for fireworks outside my boyfriend’s house. My first thought was that a bunch of teenagers (stereotype, I know) had set off a lot of fireworks in the street in front of the house. This is not unreasonable because kids cross the nature preserve on their way home from school every day, and you know they’re out there making out, or smoking… or setting of fireworks all the time. Expect I knew it wasn’t fireworks when the sound was followed by a loud POP! and the lights went out.

We ran to the door and looked out. It was dark out there, but it wouldn’t be for long. Following the pop was a mighty set of crackling, and then a lot of sparks up in the tree to the right of the house.

A branch from the tree ( a large branch) had snapped at its base and crashed down on the electrical wires. It was pretty scary at first. Everyone was out in the street looking. I don’t know if the lady across the street has super powers or what, but she had already called 911 and was done by the time my bf was halfway done with them on my phone, the only one we could find in the dark. The rest of the neighbors were standing around asking each other if we should all call. I know who’s going to survive the apocalypse on this street. And I know I want that lady across the street on my zombie apocalypse team.

Fortunately for us, we had just had a hot pizza delivered so we could work through the night without having to make food (not that pizza is actually food, but hey, it’s finals). Since we couldn’t work without power, and we figured walking under a tree on fire was probably a bad idea, we sat on the steps, ate pizza and watched.

The tree didn’t catch like I expected it to. “Wow,” I remarked to my companion, “If this was AZ, that tree would be engulfed in flames and we’d have to cross under those wires.”

“I know,” he replied. “Fortunately, it’s wet here and that tree has to burn for a while before it really goes up.”

That made me feel better, until more of the power lines snapped, hitting the cars in front of us. Had someone been crossing under them, they probably would have become quite unalive.

And then something funny occurred to me and I said to my companion, “you know, if we were about 10 years younger, we would be posting this on Youtube.”

He pointed upstairs to the neighbor, who was already posting something somewhere.

Since I had thought of it too, I figured I would get out the camera and join the fun. The fire department had arrived and forced us back inside and were gingerly approaching the danger. Here’s what I got:

Now… the interesting part about these photos, as they pertain to our course… is that they were much more exciting to take than they likely are for you to look at. As Benjamin might say, they have an aura because I took them, and I was there, and you all know me. But they are also digital, and so are now instantly on the internet, available for anyone to see at any time, without context. You can’t see what’s behind me, or above me. And I’ve cropped out the VERY bright light provided by the fire truck. How do you know there isn’t an elephant over there. We certainly didn’t know our neighbor was over there waiting for the power to get shut off from the wires so he could cross and get home.

I wonder all sorts of things about these visuals as they pertain to our class and what our theorists might say.

Would McLuhan have made some statement about the camera being digital, or the fact that I’m posting these on a blog? There is also a different picture I took with my phone that I texted to facebook.

What might Geimer have said about the water spots on the window that my camera has focused on without my knowledge? What might Crary said of you as the observer? Or Selfe say about the interface you are observing my photo arrangement on?

I guess I’ll never think of visuals the same way again.


Synthesizing Readings

First I’d like to state that this week’s class, despite the absence of our instructor, was quite helpful and enlightening. I think my post here would be much different if it weren’t for a good head-filling review of the stuff.

Perhaps the best place to start when addressing the readings as a unit (or perhaps system of theory might be a better label) is with this:

It all begins with the photograph – the new technology that would forever alter the way humans view… well… anything. We could easily compare its invention with that of the printing press, and I believe Benjamin does (please correct me if I’m wrong), because of its affect on the potential distribution of the image.

From here, we can connect and synthesize all the messages from the theoretical readings we’ve been indulging in over the last few weeks. We can read them as signs, denoting obvious intentions, anchored in text, or free floating, no text at all. Below, I offer a working definition of my own nostalgia as it works with Space and Place as Benjamin and later Crary set it down. Each of the following seashore images holds a nostalgic connotation for me, and I never even thought of them as landscape – until now…


This is the Huntington Beach Pier. You don’t ever have to go there to know what it looks like. In fact, it’s one of the more famously viewed, famously photographed/filmed piers in SoCal. That’s probably got something to do with the Van’s Pier Classic that happens there every year:

All Credit for this Photo goes to Morgan Arnold @

I grew up here. I spent a huge portion of my early childhood underneath those beams eating Thrifty icecream and running from my older brother as he chased me with armfuls of seaweed. And you need never go there to imagine what it might have been like for me. Under the pier:

The above photos do not have cult value. They are not unique. I can take my point-and-shoot to these very locations and replicate almost the exact image. Or I can just republish someone else’s as I’ve done above. I can even cross time boundaries. I have photos of this very pier as it existed in the 1980’s, when there was an ice cream shop on the end. Not the End Cafe that was only there a few years. Not the Ruby’s that’s there now. A storm came when I was very small and swept away the end of the pier. The ice cream shop had a giant pink ice cream cone on the top. I watched that old ice cream cone float away. And people took pictures of that too. I would put them here if I were at my mother’s house, where the old photos are kept in an old box, in a closet no one ever opens. And I could scan those old photos up and share them with someone in… Zimbabwe, or Kuwait, or Laos. As long as that person has a computer.

Text in – black box – image out — Ones and Zeros

Vilem Flusser tells us that we are nearing (or arguably in, now) a post-historic age in which “magic will be meant to manipulate people.” (303). And indeed it does. Moving pictures (television, movies, internet videos) use static images juxtaposed in sequence and feed into my vision at 24 frames per second (ideally) in order to show me dazzling images – sell me items – get me hooked on a music video – a beautiful scene – a nostalgic bit of landscape, dialogue… anything I can imagine that I want to see – or very much do not want to see… it’s all possible.

This is Valerie Robin:

She dances with the Joffrey Ballet Company. Sometimes people contact me to ask whether or not I am she. I am not. Clearly. But in the black box, I could be. Information in – image out.

On the internet, I can look up Valerie Robin and find a lot of photos of her:

In both images, Valerie Robin is arguably presented to us as an object. She is after all, both a woman and a dancer. She is both a work of art as a dancer, and presented as art when photographed or filmed. She is even presented in an ad – as Berger tells us the progression of art becomes… eventually:

All we need in order to make a connection with “literary art” as Berger calls it, is a little Degas.

A painting like this which is normally housed at the Musee D’Orsay under special lighting because it’s a pastel, not an oil as one might expect, ceases to be as special as it was before the advent of the photograph. I can buy a print of it with the click of a mouse. It’s called The Star should you be so inclined.

And because it has been reproduced, in a print I can hold in my hand and inside this black box you call a computer, guys like Berger can now theorize about the presentation of the dancer. Mitchell can ask what it wants.

And what does it want? Does The Star want to be presented like an object? Does it want to be under low lights, trapped in Paris with other pastels, silent in a black case? Does it want to be a reflection of the objectified nude? Does it want to be the obvious inspiration for commercial art/adverts to come?

If Degas isn’t an inspiration for Little Ballerina, I don’t know what is. Maybe nothing.

And in all of this – we still have our audience to think about. According to Crary, perception can be delineated as a conscious process. He cites physicist Andre-Marie Ampere (accents not included) as saying that “any perception always blends with a preceding or remember perception” (Crary 11). And whether we’re talking afterimage, or a remake of an old image into a new, the audience is a part of it, as long as they can consciously participate in the viewing process. And as long as we have a historical consciousness.

The black box – the television, the cinema, the interwebs – all of these mediums make us potentially aware that we are viewers. We even often think in cinematic terms. All of us have wished we could clean our house or do our homework in a montage (and if you haven’t, you will now), but it’s not possible. If you’ve ever played a First Person Shooter game for a lengthy period of time, you’ve pictured yourself viewing the ‘real’ world through a scope. If you’ve watched enough action films, you’ve pictured yourself scaling buildings, jumping impossible fences, or taking out people that get in the elevator to take it up only one floor (though this last one may just be me). In this way, we are all at once a spectator, a subject of study as viewers, and a part of the machine of production (Crary 20).

All made possible by the reproducible, portable photograph and all its offspring.

Thank you, Camera Obscura, for making it all possible.


Semiotics and the “Bogus Religiosity” of Art

It is difficult to decide where to approach our two readings for the week. And though I’ve thought a lot about starting with advertisements, or with ‘religious’ ideology given to ‘art’, I keep coming back to the notion of authenticity we began speaking about in class last week.

Key Terms under Semiotics:

Denoted = that which represents

Connoted = meanings that are represented

Anchorage = keeps us linked to the word in an image saturated culture -> tags, labels, etc.

Relay = relaying the message as in a comic strip bubble

Key Terms under Berger:

Bogus Religiosity = the sense we get when in the presence of a piece of art our culture tells us is ‘great’.


All of these concepts can relate back to the idea of authenticity that we began discussing with Benjamin and Flusser. In Benjamin’s piece, we are told that with the invention of mechanical reproduction, art is taken out of its original space and time and can be placed anywhere. We see this repeated in the first chapters of Berger’s book Ways of Seeing: “The uniqueness of every painting was once part of the uniqueness of the place where it resided” (19). This ‘uniqueness’ gives us the ‘authenticity’, the ‘religiosity’ of the work of art. And because we have this cultural notion of authenticity, we are then able to be led into Berger’s final chapter about advertisements, which Barthes also spends a lot of time talking about, but in a much different context.

According to Barthes, in his article “Rhetoric of the Image,” “the image is re-presentation, which is to say ultimately resurrection, and, as we know, the intelligible is reputed antipathetic to lived experience” (269). Barthes then leads us through the ways that messages are conveyed to us: denotational and connotational, which are both based in the linguistic. Again, according to Barthes, the images we see are only meaningful in relation to their linguistic “symbolic messages”. This ides, however, was not sitting right with me. So I did some outside reading and I came across an interpretation of Barthess ideas of the linguistic message presented by Gunter Kress and Theo van Leeuwen in 1996: “Barthes’ account misses an important point: the visual component of a text is an independently organized and structured message, connected with the verbal text, but in no way dependent on it – and similarly the other way around” (18). This sounded closer to what I understand about images, so I had a friend send me a meme – something I don’t go looking for myself, but know all the kids love.











Here, you can see that the very familiar image has been altered by the text attached to it. It has a new time (now), a new space (on a screen near you), and a totally new meaning that alters the ‘authenticity’ of the piece into something new, yet arguably authentic in a new way.

But then I begin to re-question: who is more correct? Barthes, or Kress and van Leeuwen? Is the above meme independent of the text, or anchored in the text? Does it simultaneously denote and connote a message? If the purpose of the internet meme is to be humorous, how does this fit into the reproduction of the Mona Lisa as Benjamin might argue it? What does linguistic anchorage do for the nude, if we turn her into a meme? The following is apparently a very popular meme about Manet. I found a lot of them of different Manet paintings, nudes and otherwise:

Manet Meme

The idea behind the meme, anchored in this linguistic idea, makes us laugh because we know, not just from reading Berger, that the display of ‘high art’ gives the person who chooses that piece of art to display a higher sense of cultural capital – even if it just a print. This then, reinforces the argument that publicity (or what we would call an advertisement) is often successfully reminiscent of recognized pieces of art, which these memes also successfully prey upon.

I’ll leave it there in the interest of time – but I’m very excited to see what all of you are doing with this information, especially about the theory of the gaze, which Berger never labels as such.


Whistler v Ruskin

Before I dive into the note card version of the Whistler v Ruskin trials, I thought it might be helpful to remind you why you already know who James Abbott McNeil Whistler is.

Whistler's Mother

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (A.K.A. "Whistler's Mother") James Abbott McNeill Whistler American painter/etcher (1834-1903) 1871 Musee d'Orsay, Paris Oil on canvas

Whistler was a 19th century American-turned-British painter who was immensely affected by the Mechanical Age – which you will remember from our conversation today on Benjamin. A respected painter of the Victorian era, Whistler began in the Academy, but his style became increasingly impressionistic as he matured.

John Ruskin was the son of a merchant, and as a result, was exposed to ‘high art’ from an early age. Heavily influenced by the socioeconomic shifts of the Mechanical Age, where lower classes were beginning to be able to afford to commission art, Ruskin became involved in the aesthetic and moral debates that arose from this shift. He also had great mutton chops.

John Ruskin - 1850's

Around mid-19th-century, the Impressionistic movement was taking hold in Britain. Largely considered to look purposefully effortless, critics hated it and argued against “art for art’s sake”.

About his 1877 painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold” (below), Whistler was called an ‘imposture’ by Ruskin. Feeling his reputation was damaged by Ruskin’s criticisms and name-calling, Whistler took Ruskin to court. The trial was something of a mockery. Whistler won a farthing in damages, and the whole ordeal changed the philosophy of art in the mechanical age, and all the ages since.

It's Fireworks!

Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold The Falling Rocket

For more details on the trial see:

Whistler v. Ruskin: Morality in Art Versus Aesthetic Theory
by: Erin Landry


Benjamin and Flusser – a new approach

As a lover of different approaches, I have decided to take a completely different angle with this blog post. Instead of the traditional response, which is largely what my last response was, see Hill, Blair & Selfe², this time I am approaching the response by diving right into the key terms and making some connections.

Vilem Flusser’s 1993 article “The Future of Writing” poses some interesting arguments about the place that writing takes in human history. Therefore, I will start this discussion with the first key term, and then make connections to others from there.

Historical Consciousness: The discussion of historical consciousness is introduced to us by Flusser. Flusser claims that humanity had no historical consciousness before developing the written word. He claims that man was alienated by his own idolatry, his making a producing of images to represent reality, and that he needed to develop a system of writing because “writing, historical consciousness, linear rational thought were invented to save mankind from ‘ideologies,’ from hallucinatory imagination” (301). A few paragraphs later, Flusser then claims that we may have come into some kind of post-historical consciousness age with the advent of photographs, and one can only assume that he also means film.

This point can be further illustrated by several pictorial depictions (photographs included) of Flusser, who apparently was rather fond of wearing more than one set of spectacles at once.

I include these photos and drawings of Flusser because they lend some additional visual weight to my next key term:

Authenticity: Benjamin, in his article “The Work of Art in the Age of Production,” spends some time in discussion about the varying degrees of authenticity, which are becoming further complicated given additional modes of production. In section IV, he opens with the idea of “the fabric of tradition,” which has apparently kept humanity in some kind of art stronghold involving the important elements of space and place. Before mechanical reproduction, art was bound to place. One needed to travel to a particular place to see a particular piece of artwork. Or, if we argue that a landscape is also a piece of art, one needed to travel to a particular space to see the landscape in question. With the advent of photography, what Benjamin calls ‘process reproduction’, the need to link an image with its place or space in, or on the planet is no longer a requirement. Add to this the print, or ‘technical reproduction,’ and one need no longer leave the house in order to see any image one may choose to purchase cheaply to hang over the mantel.

With the advent of digital, I can call up any of the above images of Flusser, make prints, and hang them where I please. How does multi-specked Flusser fit into our historical context in this context?

Based on these two important ideas introduced by Flusser and Benjamin, we can examine the visual world from an enormous number of angles. Depending on which angle we look from, and what kinds of new reproduction technologies have been developed since these articles, the discussion about authenticity and its implications on our historical consciousness are necessary. As I did last time, I would like to pose several questions that came up as I did the reading.

  1. Based on a combination of both readings, can we assume that the authors might agree with the following statement: ‘reproduction obscures ‘truth’ (little t)’?
  2. What might Benjamin make of the digital reproduction – and what might he say about the ‘studio audience’ used in many episodic comedy television shows that developed after his article was written?
  3. Can there be levels of ‘the fabric of tradition’? For example, ‘where’ I saw a film, or ‘when’ – if I saw a photograph in a gallery during its debut, does that add a different level of ‘tradition’ in art as Benjamin discusses it here?