On The Look Out;

Or Visual Rhetorics and Rhetorical Vision


Agenda Questions

The following four sets of questions have been generated by Barbara Biesecker and John Louis Lucaites on the basis of their initial, joint readings of the position papers submitted for this panel. As you will see, they overlap and intersect in a variety of ways, in some cases the differences being as much a matter of accent than anything. We offer them as potential and preliminary starting point for where a scholarly, critical interpretive community concerned with visual rhetorics and rhetorical vision might begin to identify sites of common concern, interest, and issue. No doubt many of you see other possibilities for how to parse this work, and we welcome any and all suggestions. Our goal here is not to discipline the discussion, but to take a first shot at getting us started. Perhaps the best way for us to focus our energies during the roundtable discussion in NYC is to consider what the key questions are that should animate our future study of visual rhetorics and rhetorical vision.
Barb and John

1. Some like W.J.T. Mitchell suggest that the "visual turn" has replaced the "linguistic" or "rhetorical turn." From one perspective this raises questions about the history of the relationship between rhetoric and consciousness, both in theory and in practice. How has the relationship between rhetoric and the visual been treated in our theoretical discourses since the time of classical antiquity? In what sense(s) do the relationships between verbal-visual rhetorics, visual rhetorics, and ocularcentric rhetoric correspond to the experience of consciousness at particular moments in time? And what, if anything, is the governing experience of the relationship between the visual and the rhetorical in our own (postmodern?) times? Aesthetic? Representational? Allegorical? Do we need to be thinking beyond the visual turn … and if so, towards what?


2. From a related, but slightly different angle, Mitchell's suggestion raises questions about the relationship between "images" (or imagery) and the "text." How does the metaphor of the "text" -- grounded in a hermeneutics of "reading -- effect our understanding of visual rhetoric? What are the implications of neologisms like "imagetext" for how we understand the "seeing" and the "seen"? Ought we to place accent on the visual or the rhetorical when we think about the "visual text" or visual rhetorics? How does the "materiality" of the seeing experience impact upon our rhetorical consciousness? Does architecture of city planning require different hermeneutic (reading?) strategies than documentary photography? Personal scrapbooks? Paintings? Museums and monuments?


3. How do we want to conceptualize, theorize, talk about or represent the so-called "experience of the visual"? What is the nature, character, or status of the "eye/I"? Are we talking about perception, viewing, reading, decoding, seeing, looking, gazing? In what way(s) and to what extent does it matter that the "experience of the visual"--of the family photograph, Holbein's "The Ambassadors," Holocaust photography, nuclear art, documentary films, avant-garde art, postmodern architecture--is cross-hatched by differences of gender, sexuality, nation, race, class, age and ethnicity? How do we understand and, thus, by what means are we to investigate the representational systems within which visual experiences take place? As systems of signs? As circuits of communication? As apparatuses of power? As networks of desire? Some other way?


4. What is the role of the visual in individual and collective remembering and, thus, in the historiographic imagination? Is individual and/or collective memory constituted by or installed--primarily or in part--through visual images or representations--from the photograph to the lock of hair? To what extent is memory a virtual visual archive? What are the principles or rules of its (re)formation and what is the status of the visual images or representations 'contained' therein? And (how) do we (need to) attend to the technologies or modes and forms of their dissemination (i.e., the museum and its exhibition rhetorics, the electronic archive) and reception?


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