Enculturation, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 2001

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Introduction: Notes on Visual Rhetoric

The essays, hypertexts, poems, and images collected in this issue of Enculturation speak to some of the questions that animate critical theory these days: What is visual rhetoric? Or to be trendier, perhaps, What is the nature of the visual? Of visuality? We have collected some eclectic but representative writing, performance, and theory that raise and address such questions and that we see occupying substantial attention across a broad range of academic disciplines: rhetoric, literary and cultural studies, art and design, photography, and creative writing. Our aim has been not to set limits on the range of visual rhetoric, but to collect works that reveal the presence of visual rhetoric where it might not normally be thought to belong.

So, for instance, we include works like Starla Stensaas's Comfort Food at Death's Door, a hypertext visual essay that performs its answer as much as it explicates it. Essays by Heather Lisa Dubnick ("Bodying Forth the Impossible: Metamorphosis, Mortality, and Aesthetics in the Works of Jorge Luis Borges"), Monique Rooney ("'Recoil' or 'Seize'?: Passing, Ekphrasis and "Exact Expression" in Nella Larsenšs Passing"), and Julie Anderson ("Spectacular Spectators: Regendering the Male Gaze in Delariviere Manley's The Royal Mischief and Joanna Bailliešs Orra") examine ways that the visual functions in literary contexts, in the act of reading and performance. Robert Miltner's "Where the Visual Meets the Verbal: Collaboration as Conversation" narrates the collaboration between a visual artist and poet in the total act of making meaning, an act also explicitly represented in Salita Bryant's poem, "Torso," written in response to Alfred Stieglitz's famous photograph of Georgia O'Keefe. At least two of the essays explore the cultural and familial significance of the photograph as artifact and iconic representation: Marguerite Helmers's "Popular Icons and Contemporary Memory: An Apology, Year 2001" and Barry Mauer's "The Found Photograph and the Limits of Meaning." Sally Gomaa ("Theorizing Practice, Visualizing Theory, and Playing by the Rules") and Robert Craig ("Panoptic Mediation") point to limitations in our understanding of the range of visual rhetoric, suggesting ways that we might broaden our conception of what constitutes visual rhetoric as the expression of power. Carol Wiest ("Toward a Rhetoric of Tactile Pictures") contests definitions of visual rhetoric that do not account for the tactile in the act of perception and (by implication) the total range the visual. The interface design by Wes Juranek metaphorically suggests bi-directionality of visual and verbal processes, while the Flash titles of David Woodward help us see titles themselves as layered acts of entitlement and naming as forms of condensations.

Taken whole, these works show the many roads a thorough account of visual rhetoric might travel, as well as the challenge (or futility) of defining what we mean when we qualify rhetoric as "visual."

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