Rhetoric and Visual Culture

W 2:30-5:00 P.M.

Mottier 112

 "[Not] only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that [sight], most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things."
Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980a
"Visiblity is a trap."
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish


 Some, like W.J.T. Mitchell,  suggest that the "visual turn" has replaced the "linguistic" turn in recent years, and certainly the cottage industry of historical, critical and theoretical work on visuality, visual culture, technologies of vision, specularity and the gaze, scopic regimes, the seen (scene), ocularcentrism, etc. would seem to support the claim.  Such a shift &endash; implicated as it is by the tension between the quotations from Aristotle and Foucault cited above &endash;  raises interesting and complex questions about the history of the relationship between rhetoric (understood broadly as the capacity of language-in-action to constitute being and identity towards the ends of social and political interaction) and consciousness, both in theory and in practice. In what sense(s) do the relationships between visual rhetorics, verbal-visual rhetorics, and ocularcentric rhetorics correspond to the experience of consciousness at particular moments in time?  And what, if anything, is the governing experience of the relationship between rhetoric and the visual in late modern society?  How does the metaphor of the "text" &endash; grounded in a hermeneutics of "reading" &endash; effect our experience and understanding of visual rhetoric?  Or alternately, how does the metaphor of the "visual" implicate our understanding of the relationship between rhetoric and consciousness in general?  Further, how does the "materiality" of the seeing experience impact upon our rhetorical consciousness?  Does architecture or city planning require different hermeneutical or rhetorical strategies than cinematography or documentary photography?  Paintings?  Museums and monuments?  Personal scrapbooks?  Speechmaking?  In this class we will address the above and related questions both historically and conceptually as we strive to identify the problems and possibilities of visual rhetorics in the contemporary world.  We will begin by briefly examining how rhetoric and the visual have been articulated at several key moments in their respective histories from classical antiquity to the present.  We will then turn our attention to recent efforts to theorize the relationship between rhetoric and the visual, paying careful attention to both the representational systems (or discourses) within which visual culture is constituted and experienced, and to the ways in which such systems/discourses are implicated by differences of nation, class, race, ethnicity, age, gender, and sexuality.


This course will  cover the gamut from classical antiquity to the renaissance to the twentieth century,  but will emphasize contemporary efforts to theorize the relationship between rhetoric and the visual as it is constituted and experienced in late modern society.  Members of the seminar will be expected to several position papers  (3-4 pp.) on class readings and to prepare a seminar paper (15-20 pp.) in which they address the problematics and readings of the course in their own study of an instance of "visual rhetoric."



* Students may also enroll for this course as G751 Seminar in American Studies of C701 Seminar in Cultural Studies.






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