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Because a Project is Never Complete

Wanted to add two more cents to it.  I was thinking about the project last night, about the argument I’ve been making, and it seems that what I’m saying are two major points:

One) Images and the Aesthetic reach a person before words (duh, but it makes more sense when you’ve read the rest).

Two) For most of our speech (and I equate composition as following speech in all the significant ways; I suppose one could pose an objection here) we do not operate in a continuum so much as in this:



A bell curve.  We are not hypertechnical philosophers the majority of the time, nor do we deliberately obfuscate and present ambiguity with our meanings.  That is the job of very specific areas–language games–and I don’t see the internet particularly altering things.

What is more interesting is the fact that images can be placed AT ANY POINT along this bell curve and serve a purpose in a language game, per that game’s rules.  THAT is the great flexibility of the image, and why, in our digital age, Visual Rhetorics seems to me to need a revision from the Grand Narrative of composition.  It does not need to be as radical as Rice imagines it, because seeing it in its true light is an awesome thing, indeed.



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.

Fig. 1

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).

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.

Fig. 3, Michel Foucault

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…

Fig. 4, Flannery O'Connor

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.

You should continue here if you already read the Wittgenstein/Rice post, or here if you missed that debate.

Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jeff Rice

From Professor Barry Smith and others:

The Times (London). Saturday, May 9, 1992

Sir, The University of Cambridge is to ballot on May 16 on whether M. Jacques Derrida should be allowed to go forward to receive an honorary degree. As philosophers and others who have taken a scholarly and professional interest in M. Derrida’s remarkable career over the years, we believe the following might throw some needed light on the public debate that has arisen over this issue.

M. Derrida describes himself as a philosopher, and his writings do indeed bear some of the marks of writings in that discipline. Their influence, however, has been to a striking degree almost entirely in fields outside philosophy — in departments of film studies, for example, or of French and English literature.

In the eyes of philosophers, and certainly among those working in leading departments of philosophy throughout the world, M. Derrida’s work does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigour.

We submit that, if the works of a physicist (say) were similarly taken to be of merit primarily by those working in other disciplines, this would in itself be sufficient grounds for casting doubt upon the idea that the physicist in question was a suitable candidate for an honorary degree.

M. Derrida’s career had its roots in the heady days of the 1960s and his writings continue to reveal their origins in that period. Many of them seem to consist in no small part of elaborate jokes and the puns “logical phallusies” and the like, and M. Derrida seems to us to have come close to making a career out of what we regard as translating into the academic sphere tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists or of the concrete poets.

Certainly he has shown considerable originality in this respect. But again, we submit, such originality does not lend credence to the idea that he is a suitable candidate for an honorary degree.

Many French philosophers see in M. Derrida only cause for silent embarrassment, his antics having contributed significantly to the widespread impression that contemporary French philosophy is little more than an object of ridicule.

M. Derrida’s voluminous writings in our view stretch the normal forms of academic scholarship beyond recognition. Above all — as every reader can very easily establish for himself (and for this purpose any page will do) — his works employ a written style that defies comprehension.

Many have been willing to give M. Derrida the benefit of the doubt, insisting that language of such depth and difficulty of interpretation must hide deep and subtle thoughts indeed.

When the effort is made to penetrate it, however, it becomes clear, to us at least, that, where coherent assertions are being made at all, these are either false or trivial.

Academic status based on what seems to us to be little more than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship is not, we submit, sufficient grounds for the awarding of an honorary degree in a distinguished university.

Yours sincerely,

Barry Smith
(Editor, The Monist)

Hans Albert (University of Mannheim), David Armstrong (Sydney), Ruth Barcan Marcus (Yale), Keith Campbell (Sydney), Richard Glauser (Neuchâtel), Rudolf Haller (Graz), Massimo Mugnai (Florence), Kevin Mulligan (Geneva), Lorenzo Peña (Madrid), Willard van Orman Quine (Harvard), Wolfgang Röd (Innsbruck), Karl Schuhmann (Utrecht), Daniel Schulthess (Neuchâtel), Peter Simons (Salzburg), René Thom (Burs-sur-Yvette), Dallas Willard (Los Angeles), Jan Wolenski (Cracow)
Internationale Akademie für Philosophie, Obergass 75, 9494S Schaan, Liechtenstein.

May 6.

The Times (London). Saturday, May 9, 1992

The above is a real letter, written by analytic philosophers very upset over Cambridge’s decision to award Derrida an honorary scholarship. He is accused of obscurantism and of being an imposter. I haven’t read Derrida, and so cannot give my own opinion on the matter. I don’t know that I agree with their letter, but philosophers are only human, and have their gut reactions—so I really can understand it. I found this letter doing research for my other paper, in Dr. Harker’s class, on Jeff Rice’s The Rhetoric of Cool. Rice’s book led me to Wittgenstein to look for an objection but in so doing I found a unique perspective on a clichéd topic.

(The following is only a synopsis of my critique of The Rhetoric of Cool).

Jeff Rice (Fig.1) presents the thesis of his book in a number of places. Here are two:

Fig. 1; Jeff Rice on the right

To write a Weblog is not the same as to write a personal essay; to engage with a wiki is not the same as to write a thesis; to construct a hypertextual project is not the same as to create a print-based research essay. To even conduct research is no longer the same. Media dictate otherwise. Media change us, and media change the nature of our work.” (Rice, 147).

Finding “a” theory of new media to work with has proven difficult for composition studies… Each book continues the project of print culture to some extent, carrying over the very specific assumptions and ideological positions associated with print (writing topic sentences, paragraph-based structuring, interpretation over production, logical reasoning and ordering, referential-based argumentation, the questions of purpose, audience recognition)… [T]he field, as a whole, still lacks a substantive rhetoric of new media. The rhetoric of cool is meant as a first step toward inventing a new media rhetoric by recognizing that the terms that shape writing differ significantly within new media than they have within print.” xxviii

So, putting it in my own words. Digital media is everywhere. We compose and read digital media on a regular basis—although Rice doesn’t say it, he could assert that digital media will replace almost all paper based media in, say, ten years, and I would agree. Digital media demands its own literacies and practices that are fundamentally different from print based literacies and practices. Academic composition programs are still stuck doing the print based thing; he is submitting this as a first step toward theorizing a rhetoric for the ‘new’ composition.

I agree with the whole thing, except the part about print based logic no longer applying. It means that his project still gets off the ground, but with a scope that is narrower than he envisions. Before I get into why I disagree, I’ll show the only justification I could find in the whole book on the necessity of print based logic disappearing. I don’t mean to be rude, but this is an immensely important part of his argument; the grand scale of his project shrinks considerably without it, and I wish that he would have spent some effort detailing why print logic is on its way out. In the end, he gives nothing: it’s Greg Ulmer, in the foreword, who offers something of a reason.

Mr. Ulmer states, “Aristotle’s logic became possible and necessary in response to the power of alphabetic writing to record (store and retrieve) the flow of human speech.” (xiv). I take him to mean that Aristotle’s logic was a way to organize data (the communications of mankind) such that it would make sense to future generations reading it off a page. That we were compelled to do so by the new invention of print, in a theory we may call technological determinism. That makes sense; it sounds nice. We invented a new medium of communication, and so rules apply to it. A couple of centuries ago, it was print; we’re on to a new medium again, and the accompanying new rules that will apply to it. But I did wonder, why exactly did we need a logic in writing that did not apply already to speech? How was Aristotle’s logic impossible before print? The coherence, clarity, and structure that Rice repeatedly rejects seem to be an amplification of pre-existing norms that occur in the overwhelming majority of our dealings with other people (58, 86, 112, 155, 104, 23…). We might not have ‘topic sentences’ in our conversations, but we do manage to stick to topics. Nor do we have ‘thesis statements’ behind every interaction, but when the officer is writing me a ticket, he seems to have a particular purpose in mind.

Looking at the internet, and Web 2.0, I do see an interactive, multi-modal space. I see a need for new composition practices. I also see thesis statements, clarity and coherence, and linear thought through the hyperlinks. So I rejected Rice’s technological determinism, both in theory and in experience, as implausible.

Fig. 2, Ludwig Wittgenstein

I used Wittgenstein (Fig. 2) and the Philosophical Investigations, not really to disprove Rice’s argument, but to offer a theoretical framework that could provide some credibility to my own thoughts. Wittgenstein presents reductive philosophy as a mistake—it misses too many vital characteristics of our language looking for the essential and broad characteristics that hold categorically. Instead, we should look at each individual speech act or context of speaking (or writing, or composition in general). These contexts he called ‘language games’, and gives a long list of examples in the 23 paragraph of Philosophical Investigations.

-Giving orders, and obeying them–

-Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurement–

-Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)–

-Reporting an event–

-Speculating about an event–

-Forming and testing a hypothesis–

-Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams–

-Making up a story; and reading it–


-Singing catches–

-Guessing riddles–

-Making a joke; telling it–

-Solving a problem in practical arithmetic–

-Translating from one language into another–

-Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying–

How simple and varied these are, and though they are all different, they bear resemblances to one another. Not all games will share every commonality with one another, some groups of games will be more closely linked than others—Wittgenstein called this aspect ‘family resemblances’, a relationship of kin and his way of sticking with the particular instantiations to explain language. We will get further into family resemblance, language games, and aesthetics in my next section, but let us dwell on one resemblance that is shared of necessity (Wittgenstein, 65).

All games have rules. In our language games, the majority of rules occur in particular cases; there is one that has a categorical nature to it, however, and it is, “for an utterance to be meaningful it must be possible in principle to subject it to public standards and criteria of correctness… The signs in language can only function when there is a possibility of judging the correctness of their use.” (Biletzki, web). I submit that we call this judgment clarity for atomic words and thoughts, and coherence when it is thoughts put together in the creation of propositions.  This is not to say that Rice’s proposal violates the private language argument to the point of unintelligibility, but his focus will radically alter the nature of most of a majority of our games.

This is only the first piece of the counterargument, however, because Rice could seemingly claim that ‘media change us’ in such a way as to obviate clarity and coherence. That is his argument, actually. I find Rice’s argument untenable because, “The common behavior of mankind is the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language.” (Wittgenstein, p. 206). In this case, our unknown language is, according to Rice, composition of a digital format. Yet it is still going to have to accord with the common behavior of mankind, which is to say, our fundamental way of life is not going to change because we are entering the digital age. When I go to the doctor, I will expect him to do his best to give me a clear diagnosis, and technology to further that cause. In my discussions and conversations with my friends, co-workers, bosses, and professors, I will still try to make coherent statements and use words that illustrate my point. Language is useful because of the utility it introduces to my life. Life precedes language, hence the use of language is determined by life, and not the other way around. The internet changes things, but how much are laws and the legal system going to change? How about encyclopedias? Magazines and news articles and the rest might appear slightly different, but they are still going to need to be useful to our way of life.  The majority of our communications simply do not allow Rice’s project to work.

Did you read that letter at the start? Wondering how it fits? It’s a bit of a thought experiment, I guess, to see if you, my reader, actually agree with Rice. I would imagine you would expect me to fit it in here somehow, to make it clear why I decided to include it (and not require you to see five different narrations in it). My point is, those philosophers are critiquing Derrida for the same reasons I critique Rice, for failure to maintain an adherence to the principles that make for good academic writing, or even run-of-the-mill composition. But I break with the above critique, because I find that Rice does have something to say in a very particular branch of language games.

So, a last few notes before you go to the next page. First, Wittgenstein wanted to describe language as a vast assortment of games because the particulars, to him, are more important than trying to find the essential qualities of all of language. This is a metaphor taken from my paper for Dr. Harker, but I like it: suppose you wanted to know what pistachio ice cream tastes like. I could describe those things common to all ice cream, its coldness and sweetness, its liability to melt, etc., but you still would miss something unique to pistachio ice cream. We have ice cream flavors, not the Flavor of ice cream. We have language games, not the game of language.

Second, individual words, and from words sentences, and from sentences whole meaning systems derive their meaning for their particular games. This is very similar to social turn theory which has been formulated in numerous ways: James Paul Gee’s essay on the Social Turn is an excellent illustration on how social context has become a topic of great influence

Second, my continuum looks at certain particularities that seem to be fairly constant of certain broad aspects of language games—to continue with Wittgenstein’s metaphor, there are board games, sports games, bar games, and games that boys and girls play with each other. The continuum you will see features very loosely bound types of games that I picked somewhat arbitrarily, but I believe they cohere with certain intuitions we have as regard our compositions.

This led to me to my current project, which involves more Wittgenstein, and the nature of the aesthetic. Head here to get back to my introduction for this class’ project.

Works Cited:

Biletzki, Anat and Matar, Anat, “Ludwig Wittgenstein”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.

Rice, Jeff. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Southern Illinois University: Southern Illinois University Press. 2007. Print.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations.3rdEd. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1958. Print.

It should be noted, I cited Wittgenstein with his paragraph numbers (P. *), and not page numbers.

Works Consulted:

Candlish, Stewart and Wrisley, George, “Private Language”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.

Against the Science of Aesthetics

During my analysis of Wittgenstein’s critique of Rice, I came upon a very interesting paper on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It was appropriately titled Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics, and its reading and comprehension gave me insight into the whole nature of visual rhetorics, and helped to place some of our other readings (of which I have listed here).

Here are the most interesting points, in brief, of those readings. The dispute that I posed between Wittgenstein and Rice is resolved in this discussion of aesthetics, and will play a foundational role in understanding the Aesthetics.

Garry Hagberg, a Wittgenstein scholar and the author of this article, opens with a quick distinction of great importance. There is a difference between the scope of the aesthetic and that of the artistic—the former will encompasses the latter, as we believe art is an attempt at capturing some aesthetic value. But the shadows cast on a cloudy day may provoke very deep and poetic feelings, or a particular shade of red in a rose, or an empty building that is normally full of people and sounds, ad nauseam. This is the material of artistic composition.

As we discussed previously, Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language posits the meaningof words is context dependent—the meaning is how we use a word in any given situation (so long as we play by the rules of that particular language game). Attempting to find the essential quality, i.e. an absolute definition, sheds some vital properties of language and the way we participate in discourse; in the same way, aesthetic experiences are not subject to essential definitions. There can be no Science of Aesthetics. This is a very subtle point, one that bears elucidation both as a metaphor for what his philosophy of language actually is doing, and to better explain the nature (hence, deepen our understanding) of images. Because this article applies to aesthetics generally, it also holds a place for the more artistic forms of composition, and makes clear what it is about these compositions that draws us to them (Hagberg, web).

What does it mean to say that there cannot be a science of aesthetics? Imagine a conversation between you and a friend; the two of you just got done watching Schindler’s List, and it was the first time you had seen it. Your friend notices you seem a bit despondent, and asks, “Why are you looking so sad?” You respond, quite naturally, “Well, because we just watched that movie.” Your friend takes your hand, smiles, and says, “Actually, that isn’t an explanation at all…”

Your friend has apparently been reading her philosophy late into the night. Your explanation does not work because you are giving the wrong sort of cause for your glum feelings. That is, you are assuming a cause and effect sort of explanation can capture the root of those aesthetic feelings—yet, upon scrutiny, it appears that there is something that science misses. If I step outside into a particularly beautiful afternoon, I might undergo all sorts of aesthetic pleasures, but there is nothing in that afternoon that can really explain to me the source of that feeling. The beautiful afternoon causes the exposure of sunlight to my eyes, birdsong to my ears and breeze on my skin—but there is nothing in it that is beautiful in and of itself. Even if, through technological innovation and progress, we should be able to get a precise statistical breakdown of the effects that listening to a certain piece by Debussy will have on me in any given situation, we still would have not done any work explaining why Debussy affects me so. The fact that we can use a word like ‘ineffable’ in our language games illustrates our tacit understanding of these sorts of inexplicable phenomena. It is why the philosopher has her reason, and the poet his muse (Hagberg, web).

This is also why, when I read two poems that give me similar feelings, I would not say that one may be substituted for the other and still mean the same. There is a personality behind each work of art beyond its effect. The same holds true of our language games—examine these sentences:

-You should arrive at nine.

-You should be here at nine.

Both sentences effect identical meanings, yet the former ‘sounds’ more appropriate for certain occasions (more formal, for example).

Wittgenstein also says this, as regards the nature of perceiving an aesthetic feeling:“It is a reaction analogous to my taking my hand away from a hot plate” (Wittgenstein 1966). It is very much faster than systematic analysis; in fact, it seems the feeling is there first, and then analysis of why that feeling follows.

So, philosophy aside for a moment—what do we do with this? For one, philosophy may investigate it, but the aesthetic (really, all life) is at some remove from philosophical inquiry. Rhetoricians and those who compose (us, in other words) have a theory that is certainly very interesting, but more important, our field covers the scope of this philosophy in a practical way. This ‘hot plate’ metaphor especially is of interest for persuasion—it is along the same lines, to my way of thinking, of why Aristotle claimed the rhetorician should be more concerned with enthymemes and less with fully drawn out proofs.

Second, the Rhetoric of Cool has everything to do with aesthetic composition. On the right side of the continuum the purpose of composition is achieved in systematic cause and effect; thesis statements, organization, and outlines will not be sloughed away by the digital age, not for these sorts of compositions. Passing center, however, and approaching left, as the influence of rational structure and science diminishes, we see Rice’s methods in practice.

And finally, we have reached the beginning of the nature of images, to be taken up here.

I apologize for the altered font size, I cannot figure out what it formatted this way.





Works Cited:

Hagberg, Garry, “Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.

Rice, Jeff. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Southern Illinois University: Southern Illinois University Press. 2007. Print.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Ed. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1958. Print.

The Aesthetic Image

There are two authors from class that I will discuss in this final section: Hill and Barthes (and a bit of Berger). Hill gives us something very near the lines of what I was just suggesting Wittgenstein’s theories can help us with, an explanation of how images work so that we can better understand how to work images to effect persuasion. Barthes puts this into practice, by describing advertisement (in a method that admittedly deals with a great deal more than advertisement) to give examples of the processes involved in multi-modal compositions. I will make a brief case that these will loosely hold in almost all types of multi-modal compositions, and not just those involving text and image.

Berger gets a brief mention . First, Berger is one to point out how plastic images are. Words can be snipped out of context to make them sound like something entirely different, but in general a written composition has more explicit meaning tied to it than does an image. Even if we imagine something that seems to be very explicit, like a Nazi with his boot on a man’s throat, we could conceive of two utterly different purposes based merely on the subtitle. One would read, “Glory to the Fatherland,”; the other, “The world will be thus without YOUR help.” Berger gives the example of van Gogh’s Crows over Cornfields, first the plain image, and second the same image subtitled, “This is the last picture van Gogh painted before he killed himself” (Berger, 27-28). It serves to illustrate that an aesthetic feeling is distinct from a rational explanation, and that images and their aesthetic feelings in conjunction with text—joining elements of the left and right of the continuum—produce powerful effects with an economy of motion, a matter of rhetorical interest and importance.

Hill’s article, The Psychology of Images, winds up with similar conclusions that we found in Wittgenstein. To wit, on page 3, “[S]imply applying methods and concepts designed specifically for verbal language to persuasive images is not the most productive or accurate way…” And further in the article, on 5, “[U]sing terms like heuristic processing almost seems like a strategy to avoid discussing the difficult concept of emotions.” We determined previously, this is because a causal chain that is appropriate for locating the meaning of most verbal language fails to account for the way images affect us. Aesthetic feelings do so prior to reason.

Hill continues on to talk about presence, defined as, “the extent to which an object or concept is foremost in the consciousness of the audience members” (Hill, 28). ‘No press is bad press’ plays on this idea, and while this might not be entirely true for rhetoricians who wish their audience to both think of a specific situation and come to a particular conclusion about it, presence is undeniably valuable to the business of rhetoric. All the logic and arguments in the world are futile to dislodge a belief if that belief takes up the whole of a person’s attention, and Hill points out that for a majority, their beliefs are not formed on considered reflection and strict logic, anyway. The potency available to a rhetor with a recipe that can evoke very powerful feelings, either positive or negative, and then direct them, is clearly to be preferred over purely verbal arguments (Hill, 28).

This is not news to advertisers and marketers. These men (and women) have been putting these rhetorical devices to use since widespread use of images became possible. The show Mad Men may not be wholly accurate, but gives a general idea of the art involved in rhetoric—our continuum runs from belles lettres to logic, and pictures are now a part of it. Although I placed pictures on the far left, where intuitively I believe most of us would place them, advertisers have figured out how to join them, in a way that “the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional… the advertising image is frank, or at least emphatic.” (Barthes, 270). Barthes employs a more sophisticated and nuanced analysis of images in advertising, one that I eschew because his more basic points bring to bear everything of significance for our present case.

Fig. 1

What should truly interest us is the way text interacts with images to make their meanings concrete. Barthes gives us three different messages in his advertising picture (and in advertising pictures generally, if not in almost all visual media in mass communication). The linguistic message, the text in an image, is one—the caption, title, or linguistic clues present in the image itself. Then there is the contextual information present of the actual image—in this FedEx ad (Fig. 1), we see the culturally commonplace shipping box with a vase being passed through it. The ad relies on our cultural knowledge (an extremely broad language game we play, but ads will almost always rely on the broadest sorts of clues to reach the widest number of their target audience). The fact that this expensive and fragile antique is being passed hand to hand through the box signifies the care taken at FedEx to keep your property in one piece. But there is a third message, this one uncoded. The second relies on cultural knowledge of both shipping companies and the stereotypes of rough handling and broken broken goods. But there is the fact of the image itself; hands, a vase, a box, and a grey background. That message is completely uncoded, and thus relies on the other two levels of messages to convey the surface message (Barthes, 271-272).

So advertisers manipulate both the articles in the image and the text of the image to produce the desired rhetorical effect using two functions, anchorage and relay. Anchorage isolates one particular perspective or interpretation; in my Nazi example above, both of the messages would serve to anchor the meaning of the image in a particular way; in the case of anchorage, the image narrates a great deal more, hence (I would argue) the whole composition would be more oriented to the left side of the continuum, toward gut reactions and aesthetic emotion (Barthes, 274-276).

Relay, much less used in single images like ads, relies on the words more to tell the story and images as a sort of backdrop. Cartoon strips were Barthes’ example, although the covers of science fiction books came to my mind as examples of relay. In these cases, the words, and so narration, coherent facts and rationality take precedence over the image (Barthes 274-276).

And for my conclusion, you can click here.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. The Rhetoric of the Image. URL = < content/uploads/2011/06/barthes_rhetoricofimage.pdf.>

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.

Hill, Charles A. “The Psychology of Rhetorical Images.”Defining Visual Rhetorics. Eds. Charles Hill and Marguerite Helmers. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. Print.

Final Thoughts

One who read this start to finish might wonder exactly the place of images. I do, myself, wonder if raw photographs always belong on that line of language games—and I have determined, in the end, to settle with no judgment on this. Perhaps with further analysis of Wittgenstein’s theories we might come to some idea of whether a tourist’s picture of Paris belong in the scope of language games (or whether paintings, or photoshopped pictures, etc. do). What I have maintained some faith in is my continuum, and that the starting point of images is on that left side of the line, and the aesthetic power of the visual.

What makes images so unique is their flexibility to figure in almost every language game we have derived. Business reports, comic books, résumé’s (a language game unto themselves), cook books, advertisements (clearly), all use images. Mathematics grounds its abstract formulas with figures; long, dry narratives give breadth and imagination to their words with pictures, so that we can re-imagine our continuum this way. This is the only paper that I have ever concluded with a picture—thanks for the class.



So the Dalai Lama Walks into a Pizza Shop

and asks them to make him one with everything.


I watched a clip of a news anchor guy actually tell the Dalai Lama this joke.  He did not get it.



Anyway, here’s the rough draft.


Post of what’s going on in my research


So I’m tempted to just put up my rough draft for my comp theory paper, but I’ll try and condense and just get the most important stuff out.


Basically, I start with Jeff Rice’s Rhetoric of Cool as a schema for the nature of digital composition, and then either agree or (mostly) disagree with what he says.

What he wants to do is really cool. There is a tradition in composition studies that he wants to break with, because he feels that they have too strong a hold on the direction of the discipline and they’re stifling new growth and possibilities (the Grand Narrative, the tradition that becomes dogmatic and the right way to do it). He’s a revolutionary. And he thinks that digital composition is at the forefront of new compositional studies, and can provide a model for the forms composition should take.

So old composition places an emphasis print logic, a linear path, Aristotle’s topoi, and clarity. He believes the very structure of computers and data will change all that was dictated by our reliance on print; for example, the hyperlink makes chapters following one after the next unnecessary. So the interactivity (a huge part of being ‘cool’) increases greatly, and we begin to get an idea of what his project entails.

He makes a list of these functions, or skills, or methods that will serve digital literacy and change the nature of composition:

  1. Chora

  2. Appropriation

  3. Juxtaposition

  4. Commutation

  5. Nonlinearity

  6. Imagery

Despite the fact that he’s arguing for brand new methods of organization and grouping, his book follows a pretty standard hierarchy: a thesis statement, main concept first, everything else follows. Chora is that main concept, which is (more or less) a repository in which concepts we don’t ordinarily associate might be placed against each other to find out what sort of insights they present. And the idea is cool, if not earth-shattering; when we open our minds, we think of things in new ways. Synthesis at its best.

Appropriation and juxtaposition are implied in the concept of chora: you appropriate concepts from a wide variety of sources, say the history of fast food and quantum physics, and then juxtapose them. If you imagine the world wide web as a vast, interconnected net around the earth without a beginning and end and no direction beyond what interests the user, it is easy to see how the idea of chora and appropriation lend themselves to digital composition.

However, Rice departs from print logic, at least in certain points, in very significant ways. The most glaring of these, at least in the beginning, is the complete disregard for any sort of organization being requisite for composition; if we told a machine to clip random pictures out of a magazine and create a collage, this would constitute a composition. And while it would be something, and possibly reveal insights, I have a problem with the poetry of Robert Frost being chalked up as the same kind of thing as little Billy’s refrigerator magnet poetry nonsense. We expect the author or composer to do more than put random images together and have a masterpiece; we expect there to be some deliberate meaning there that did not, as it were, simply happen to pop up.

Rice seems to anticipate this objection of mine by listing a few sources of new media that rely on mixing from various sources with that “deliberate creation” of an author obtaining. He lists Weblogs and hip-hop music. After almost an entire chapter of hearing about how new media is held back with concerns like organization or clarity (or even that organization and clarity will be reconceptualized by digital media), I was a bit underwhelmed. Certainly weblogs and hip-hop have their traces of the avant-garde, and are not novels or country western music (respectively), there was no revolution that I was expecting. Writing a blog still has a beginning, middle, and end, albeit it usually is briefer than a story. More like a news article with a more personal touch to it. Rice tells us it’s the hyperlinks that can be added to the blog, that the user is able to reference different sources; but I have yet to be to a blog that included links that had nothing to do with the main topic of the blog. The songs, as well, are always recognizable as songs. They feature samples from every genre known to man, which are then processed and turned into hip-hop music. Hip-hop music, which features a chorus and a verse and often-times a bridge and is about as traditional in structure as you can get.

I don’t disagree with Rice’s appraisal that the internet is going to broaden our abilities to compose. I just don’t think that these compositions are going to be so off-the-wall that our MINDS ARE GONNA FREAKIN’ EXPLODE, MAN!!!! Sure, we have infographics and flash presentations and rather than make notes in our encyclopedia and flip to another reference later I can just click and open another tab and never in my life finish an entire Wikipedia entry. But that blasted reliance on linearity seems to be sticking around, and for some reason all that organization and coherence and need to make sense to one another hasn’t quite fallen out of practice. It’s probably because we’re all neanderthals and don’t understand the internet beyond google, but what it really seems to come down to is that digital composition isn’t quite as earth-shattering as Rice wishes it were. It’s definitely as cool as he thinks it is, and being open-minded about things is a great principle to live by. Computers have sped up communication and broadened our lines of communication so that we have a billion people talking. But whether it’s a billion or just two, it’s still people communicating, and people haven’t changed that much since Homer told them about this big war that happened across the ocean.

So what does it have to do with the visual? Toward the end, Rice begins to talk about the use of images—that seems to be the new major inclusion in multimodal and digital composition—and while I use Wittgenstein mainly to criticize Rice (and some Barthes), I think these two together have some interesting things to say about the nature of images.

Wittgenstein, in brief, is going to say that language is a social act, that meanings have to be learned by participating in this social act (what he calls a language-game), and that all language-games have certain tenets we’re going to have to abide by. Hence, trying to make up new rules to play the game by winds up with you playing by yourself, and according to Wittgenstein, there is no playing by yourself (his argument in private language). I’ll have to enter more into this discussion in the paper.

Images enter with Barthes definitions of signs. According to him, images can have both a denotation and a connotation, but do not necessarily contain a denotation and still have meaning (or can they? This will be part of what I’ll have to tease out, but I’m pretty sure the answer will be yes). Barthes already references images, but if they do not necessarily denote anything, then the role they play in the language-game should be of interest to someone (if only me). For all other images, e.g. infographics and the like, Rice talks a big talk but goes just a bit too far; digital composition has to participate in the language game, and though it might look a bit different, it’s going to have to play by the same rules as all the rest of our language.