Not so Visual Rhetoric
One of the things that has impressed me about the C’s conference is the presence of so many presentations on electronic discourse and visual rhetoric. I bought some new books, and got a promo copy of Picturing Texts, a new textbook by Lester Faigley, Diana George, Ann Palchik and Cynthia Selfe.
The textbook is full of pictures. I like the general theoretical layout of the book, which plays images against essays about the images. But the visual layout is just too slick. Scott and I were talking about it, and we both agreed that the glossy-magazine advertising chic of “new media” publishing (a trend perhaps started by McLuhan in the sixties) just won’t go away. It’s almost become a cartoon of itself. I was thinking it might be nice to do a textbook like this with the images completely separated from the text, a la Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
On the other end of the extreme, though, are the books which theorize about images. Defining Visual Rhetorics, a new essay collection edited by Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers, fits on the other end of the scale. It has few illustrations (only a couple of photographs, and rather trite ones at that). Mostly, it uses technical drawings and pictures of magazine layouts. While I was in Minnesota, Alan Gross and I talked about that. Visual rhetoric with few visuals? There has to be some balance somewhere. Alan talked about some collections that I hadn’t seen that had no visuals at all.
Part of the problem is that it is hard to secure releases for many of the dominant images out there. The core cultural ones seem to be controlled by Corbis. After attending the IP caucus my first day here, I begin to think that there is room to write about property issues in images. I’m quite rusty on that aspect of copyright law, since I haven’t done any professional photographic work in a long time. Now might be the time to look into that again.
It is very strange to think of books on visual rhetoric with a small number of pictures; that is nearly as troubling as the whole “interpreting madison avenue” theme that has been lingering since McLuhan.