This is my introduction. You should read THIS first to make sense of it.
Semesters have lives of their own: there’s the end, the crush when all that rope we’ve been spooling out for ourselves the previous three months begins forming the noose and it’s all rush to get the neck clear. But that isn’t the whole semester—we’ve strolled along for three months, stopped here and there along the visual rhetoric road and taken in some sights. Hah. We started in dark January, and now it’s still bright at eight, and so very hard to stay working. Temperature wise not much can be said, the winter was only half-hearted this year.
My motivation to write these papers is on the nature of the image. It does not have a much deeper theme than this at this point, and this introduction may be revised by the end of the project. However, it is a personal piece of work, and is in some ways interesting to its author. The idea began in another class over a text that works on composition in the digital field, Jeff Rice’s The Rhetoric of Cool. That text makes a number of claims, and some of the fundamental ones I disagree with. In a very brief statement, Rice is mistaken in assuming that the logic behind topic sentences, linear structures, coherence and singular purpose are by-products of print composition. You can download the full copy of that paper here (actually, I’ll just email it to you if you want), or just read the synopsis in this blog. The disagreement I found with Rice’s assertions ended up limiting the scope of utility of his book, to a great degree, but I found that the application of his methods—chora, juxtaposition, commutation, etc.–and even, perhaps, his underlying thesis, that the logic present in print composition in some cases has a vastly diminished place in digital composition, found a place. It is in images, and certain other forms of print. To critique Rice I referred to Wittgenstein, and together they helped me form this… sort of theory, I guess. At bottom, a theory is just an explanation, and that’s what I’m presenting in this series of posts. I created this continuum to elucidate, although I think the whole thing will be much clearer after reading the Rice/Wittgenstein critique. Also, let me state, that in every capacity this makes generalizations, stereotypes, and plays on cliches.
In the continuum (Fig. 1), we see on the right things are very coherent, and especial value is placed on clarity—actually, with mathematics & symbolic logic, so long as the syntax being used is the same, clarity is a non-issue. We will also find that context becomes more important the further to the left things go. Context, as I use the word, has everything to do with language games. If you’d like to see my post on what that means, go here. Mathematics, the far right, is (at least in the ordinary sense) context free. At this point in time, and we trust at any point in time, that calculus, euclidean geometry, quadratic equations, and Pythagorean triangles all meant the exact same thing—and, verily, there was a right and wrong answer to them. This sort of reliance on numbers, quantitative data, and raw logic is very present in the compositions on the extreme right. Business reports with their ARBITA’s and annual reports, technical manuals on how to program or using software, that sort of stuff (Fig. 2).
Analytic philosophy would not be far behind , although there is a certain poetry to the best of them: Plato, for example, would be in the middle, if not left of center. Non-fiction, history, and the Social Sciences would be in the same place as these philosophers—Marx is studied in both philosophy and political science classes, right? Continental philosophy, Sartres, Nietzsche, Foucault, would be more to the left and hover over the center, and transcendental philosophy to the left of the Continentalists.
So what about literature? This is the point that things begin to change a bit—thus far, we have all had authors that more or less wanted to keep a clear story of the things going on—Nature magazine may be difficult to comprehend, but the authors do their best to present the data in a comprehensible way. A short story by Mark Twain, likewise, is a model of precision and clarity; he does not play with meanings, he has a purpose and wants us to know it. But Hemingway, at least as I read him, deserves a place left of Twain. Why? It is not because there is no point to his work, or that it is open to debate. You can fault me, feel free to, but I would posit that it is because his stories are more sophisticated than Twain’s, which is to say, their purpose is not worn on their surface. Flannery O’Connor would be along the same lines as Hemingway—a child can read the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and laugh, but A Good Man is Hard to Find would only make him cry. Read A Moveable Feast. How many times does Hemingway use the word “fine” in it? How many ways does he mean it? Yet there is not one place that it is inappropriate, or anything less than perfect…
Although short stories are literature and not pictures (or music), they are the beginning of an approach to muddying the waters in a very significant way. What use does a businessman have in imagination? Only so far as it helps him to outfox his competitor; in the professional world, there is no purpose for exercises in art, subtlety, or imagination for their own sake. Imagination is the fuel of this left side of the line, yet Rice is the only one whom I hear mention anything resembling this, and he only indirectly.
Where do we go after short stories? To poetry, of course. Poets are the children of print who have never played by the rules, who break their own rules. There were poets before print, but I liked the sound of that line. It should be pointed out that not all poets are on the brink on the western edge of our continuum, and some full-blooded novelists are. It’s just the tendency (unfounded assumption, you can certainly roast me on it but I think it’s right) that poetry has much less to do with logic, is very context-specific . There are multiple meanings, multiple narratives, and the reader is expected to spend a great deal of time in decryption, so to speak. It is “art for art’s sake”; not a systematic inquiry into the nature of beauty, but an exercise in creating it. “What’s the point?” is a legitimate question to ask the purest sort of art, but the most you can say for it is that it validates itself.