Three Rhetorics of the Seen Bruce E. Gronbeck University of Iowa


At least three rhetorics of matters visual have been constructed over the years:

1. Verbal-visual rhetorics have examined complementary systems of signs, with words related to inventio or ideation and images discussed as elocutio or sources of feelings. Cicero's theory of amplificatio (and depictio), Longinus's theory of the Sublime (hypsos), and Fenelon's notion of painting (peindre) argue that highly depictive language can produce conviction (pistis) through the sheer power of images.

2. Visual rhetoric per se was articulated in the pictura et poesis theories of the Renaissance; many argued that the poetic-artistic and the rhetorical-social are translatable into each other. Such equivalencies allowed De Vinci to assert the virtú visiva--the notion that paintings could teach truth and virtue even better than poems.

3. Ocularcentric rhetoric is blossoming in the wake of arguments that western epistemology has been vision-biased since the days of the pre-Socratics. What is about to be theorized is a rhetorical version of "scopic regime," wherein acts of Seeing and the Seen itself are integrally related within culturally based systems for comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating visually framed materials. Relationships between Seeing and The Seen can be rationalized, emotionalized, ideologized, psychologized, socialized, and, of course, rhetoricized.

"Those things of which there is sight, hearing, knowledge: these are what I honor most."

Hericlitus, Frag. 55, c. 500 BCE.



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