Below is a Storyboard That comic in response to Malafouris’ push back against Cartesianism.
This collage (above) represents popular approaches to personifying objects or things. I am drawing a distinction between anthropomorphism and personification of objects here purposefully, in order to examine a rhetorical visual approach to account for the agency of objects.
Jane Bennett’s argument in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things is based in her field of political science, but it’s import extends to rhetoric pretty clearly. She argues that giving the force of things their due might help us understand political events more fully. Likewise, Bill Brown’s “thing theory” serves as means of recognizing what things mean and do (in relation to the human experiencing the thing) in art and literature. Both theorists draw from Heidegger’s das Ding (the thing) as well as Bruno Latour’s push to see agency among nonhuman actants.
But how is that vitality among things conceived rhetorically? What means do human agents use and respond to conceive of a worldview that recognizes the “force of things”? I want to explore how the visuals (and imagery) help or hinder our conception of material vitality (maybe tying it to the ways Bloom criticizes empathy as still being more about identifying self rather than other)?
Or, another direction I might like to explore is this: where does “thing theory” and vibrant matter exist in digital reproductions of text?
Here is the link to my Coggle: https://coggle.it/diagram/XFjBlp2sQA-O3Ac4/t/-/62249e2e472be66be38a9c98444bde02a5b21f209bd4a995a93995cccf5f5444
Proposal for Final Project
The problem I’d like to tackle here is how scholars conceive of the agentic quality of materiality that helps construct meaning in a rhetorical event when that rhetorical event is purely digital. Essentially, I’m asking: how does the material nature of the digital platform affect (i.e., act as an agent) the meaning of the text?
Scholars have done a good job of bringing the materiality of the medium, generally, to the forefront of our consciousness, particularly book history scholars who argue for the significance of the materiality of the codex book (source). The media with less of a clear (and widely accepted) foothold in materialism is the digitally transferred text. By extension, then, how we account for the material nature of the digitally-mediated text as agentic is less concrete.
I presume that the material nature of the digitally produced and consumed text is equally as agentic as the material nature of the codex text; however, I hope to test this thinking by applying it to a particular object of study—Hypothes.is, a digital social annotation tool. I intend to explore its digital materiality as a means of conceiving the agency of the digital medium.
The research into the “pictorial turn” helps set a precedent for arguing for meaning in places that have traditionally not acknowledged certain elements as essential to critical meaning-making. For example, Wysocki sets a precedent for challenging scholars to see visual signs and symbols as key meaning-making entities and her approach helps me imagine something similar for my own project.
Technically, I’m considering a screen cast as well as still images to help describe that material and embodied interaction that Hypothes.is invites for readers. I’d like to play with Adobe Spark as a platform for building an inherently multimodal text.
Sources to start with:
Allen-Robertson. J. (2015). The materiality of digital media: The hard disk drive, phonograph, magnetic tape and optical media in technical close-up. New Media and Society.
Barad, Karen (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward An understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3):801-831.
Gries, L. (2011). Agential matters: Tumbleweed, women-pens, citizens-hope, and rhetorical actancy. In Ecology, writing theory, and new media.
Gries, L. (2015). Still Life with Rhetoric: A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetoric.
Applying Visual Methodologies
Question: How do students read a visual image when the context is not immediately familiar to them?
I chose to examine student reading practices using this famous Hoepker image of 9/11 because , while it’s a pretty famous image, it’s context isn’t immediately perceived by students in my current courses (this originally surprised me).
I chose to apply the method of audience studies, explored by Rose in chapter 9. I am perpetually fascinated with the role of the reader/listener/viewer in the rhetorical situation and this method speaks to putting that person at the center of the rhetorical event, as a “discrete site of meaning-making” (Rose, p. 200). Hall’s theory of parallel processes of encoding and decoding help me categorize their responses.
To I asked students to narrate their reading process as they encountered the visual image. Students were asked to respond to these questions: What do you first see when you encounter this image? How do you begin to read this image?
Students’ responses included (note they were also asked to go on to draw conclusions about the message being sent in the image, though I am not including that data here):
-billowing cloud of black smoke against blue sky.
-the postures of the people
-the pollution in the distance
-the emotions on the people’s faces
-the woman having a good time despite the danger of pollution
-the smoke, the pollution
-brightly colored clothes of the people
Questions I asked of these responses:
Do I see a clear pattern in students processes of decoding?
Some are reading denotatively at first. Noticing color, contrast, foreground and background.
Many, however, immediately jumped to interpretations, possibly unaware of the denotative level of interpretation that went into developing that interpretation. Those interpretations are particularly interesting in that they consistently came back as reports of pollution and the dangers of environmental damage.
Are their readings preferred, oppositional or a mix of both (negotiated)?
I’m not sure how I could use their denotative reading processes as evidence of a hegemonic or counter-hegemonic reading; however, their interpretations seemed to have applied their own contemporary hegemonic assumptions to the image. Students read the smoke as evidence of pollution and environmental damage, paralleling contemporary concerns of environmentalism and the common critique of Americans who seem to be oblivious to the destruction around them.
While this small icon of a AA battery that fills with energy has become symbolic (in the Perician sense) in that its meaning is a product of widespread agreement over its meaning, it is not literally a fair representation of the mechanisms of stored energy. Energy is not measured in volume, as a cup of milk might be; rather, it is measured in the relationship between positively charged ions and negatively charged electrodes.
If electricity is all about magnetism, and charging our phones really means charging up the positively-charged lithium ions in order to attract to the negatively-charged electrodes, the power we get is about the difference between those positive and negatively-charged electrodes (voltage, or “difference of potential”). When our phone’s battery “dies,” it is because of the absence of those positive charged ions at the site of the negatively charged electrodes. Or, another way to say it, “a common way to measure battery capacity is through mAH. It stands for a milliampere hour, and it measures the rate of electron flow through the electrical conductor” (Hildenbrand, 2018).
In this way, the volume metaphor doesn’t allow us to conceive of the forces that impact the phone’s ability to handle the charge/discharge cycle and the number of charged ions that can be attracted.
To assess whether this is a visual metaphor at all, we can turn to Carroll’s (1994) identifying features: the battery icon is meant to invite a consideration of the physically noncompossible elements—the filling of a container (source domain) as a means to understand the target domain or, in this case, the relationship between positively charged ions and negative electrodes. Further, this visual icon is homospatial (though I’m barely holding on to Carroll’s application of this term to the visual metaphor) in that the symbol represents or unifies the host of composite pieces that don’t literally co-exist. This sort of visual symbol does indeed invite exploration of the source and target domain (making it metaphorical).
The question may be whether this novel metaphor (as Ortiz et al., 2017, make mention of) is incongruent with our understandings of electrical potential. Or, is this metaphor incompatible (as Ziemkiewicz & Kosara, 2008, examine), disrupting our understanding of the ways batteries gain a charge? Maybe, as Lakoff and Johnson (1980) might argue, this visual metaphor simply makes palatable a concept that is otherwise too complex to quickly grasp literally.
To take a cognitive approach to this metaphor application, I contend that in a case such as the battery icon on our cell phones, we might find a new category to introduce to Ortiz et al. (2017)—one that sees metaphor as potentially simpler for brain processing than the literal.
Works Cited (outside our course readings)
Hildenbrand, J. (2018). Why does battery life get worse over time?: The chemistry that can provide power from metals makes those metals degrade over time and there’s not much we can do about it. Android Central. Retrieved on 17 February, 2019, from: https://www.androidcentral.com/why-does-battery-life-get-worse-over-time