A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

6.2: Foreword


Kevin Michael DeLuca, University of Utah
Joe Wilferth, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Enculturation 6.2 (2009): http://enculturation.net/6.2/foreword 

Society is concerned to tame the Photograph, to temper the madness which keeps threatening to explode in the face of whoever looks at it.

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

The eye no longer sees, it reads.

Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

Although some scholars in the field of rhetoric studies continue to “man the barricades” in defense of words, continue to study television (whether TV news, advertisements, or talk shows) while ignoring the “vision thing,” or continue to believe that images can be tamed by captions and antiquated rhetorical terms, a growing contingent of scholars is engaging images in ways that allow them to fundamentally transform rhetoric and rhetorical studies.  They recognize that the “pictorial turn” as characterized by W.J.T. Mitchell in 1995—the turn toward the influence and rhetorical prowess of images rather than logocentric debate and dialogue—marks a certain catastrophe in our work, an “irruption of something which no longer functions according to the rules [of the past], or functions by rules we do not know, and perhaps never will” (Baudrillard 18).  At this point in our field’s evolution, questions about whether rhetoric may or may not include images within its scope and within its purview are, quite simply, naïve.  The more provocative questions in our field today instead revolve around how rhetorical studies will account for images and how images, in their ubiquity and persuasive power, tend to disrupt conventional and traditional notions of rhetoric.  Surely, as Baudrillard suggests, the old rules—in this case, those regarding rhetoric, its function, and its scope—must be re-written to account for the visual.  And if “the eye no longer sees” as much as it “reads,” as Deleuze and Guattari claim, students of rhetoric must ask themselves if they can learn to see again. [1]

A restricted view of rhetoric—that is, the historical and conventional view—concerned itself with persuasion through words.  Our turn toward the visual suggests a more general (and expansive) view of rhetoric as it is characterized by contingency, arrangiasti, the art of making do in civic space.  Rhetoric is, as Theresa Enos and Stuart Brown suggest in the introduction to Defining the New Rhetorics, “a history of changes, inventions, reformulations, extensions, and rediscoveries” (vii).  In technical terms, rhetoric is dependent on emergent forms [2] and, as we shall see in the essays included in this collection, it is dependent on emerging technologies, those of production, of mediation, and of delivery.  In fact, we want to suggest that the most interesting aspect of rhetoric is its emergent character, its contingent quality.  As a unifying definition that operates throughout the essays in this collection, we consider rhetoric the art of discerning and deploying the available contingent means of constructing, maintaining, and transforming social reality in a particular context.  We contend that image events, or “staged acts of protest designed for media dissemination” (Delicath and DeLuca 315), are prime examples of how those constructing, maintaining, and transforming processes work. [3]

The process of learning to see again has been underway in our field for some time, as

a cursory review of scholarly literature in both English and communication studies reveals.  Indeed, one might look to the 1970 Wingspread Conference as the starting point of the visual turn in rhetorical studies.  “Perhaps it is enough for now,” Wayne Booth argued over thirty years ago, “to note that the rhetoric of the image, reinforcing or producing basic attitudes towards life that are frequently not consciously faced by the rhetor, constitutes an enormous part of our daily diet of rhetoric” (101).  Attending to Booth’s call, a cadre of scholars and critics, including Thomas Benson, David Blakesley, Lester Olson, Bruce Gronbeck, Celeste Condit, Carolyn Handa, Charles Hill, Carole Blair, Sonja Foss, Marguerite Helmers, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Davi Johnson, Christine Harold, Cara Finnegan, John Lucaites, Robert Hariman and more, have addressed questions essential to visual rhetoric in their respective work on film, public memorials, the visual arts, photographs, and politics.  Although contemporary criticism reflects a certain agility with a variety of different visual artifacts, including film, public memorials, and political/activist uses of photographs, systematic rhetorical accounts of images are few.  At worst, they remain at the disciplinary periphery of English and communication studies.

Whereas a number of disciplines do offer formalized rules and practices for reading images, rhetorical accounts of images often rely on the grammar of art and film criticism to reveal the processes and effects of visual meaning-making, as noted by John Harrington in the early 1970s.  For example, filmic techniques such as mobile framing and reframing, which use a pan, tilt, or tracking shot to create the illusion of movement, have been studied by Judith Lancioni to explain how the imaging of archival photographs in Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary constitutes a visual rhetoric that dramatizes the contingent nature of history (28-30).  Such a study, complemented by the work of Lester Olson, Cara Finnegan, and others, shows us how the study of images in an exercise in semiotics and phenomenology.  Images and their discursive nature, as has been demonstrated in such scholarship, may be systematically examined by isolating and tracing the processes of signification.  That is, their ideographic qualities—their function as floating signifiers—comes to the foreground.  In addition to isolating particular compositional elements that govern images, a recurrent theme evident across disciplinary fields is a continuing concern with how images offer a way of seeing.  Echoing the work of John Berger and his notion that “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (8), photographer and film artist Victor Burgin characterizes the capturing of images, photography specifically, as a signifying system that acts as a “a structured and structuring space within which the reader deploys, and is deployed by, what codes he or she is familiar with in order to make sense.”  From this perspective, images produce “the ideological subject in the same movement in which they ‘communicate’ their ostensible ‘contents’” (153).  It is this trajectory of analysis that serves as a productive point of departure.

Despite the progress made in rhetoric studies, we remain uneasy over the study of images especially as we use context, transcendent theory, and language to reduce the rhetorical force of images to meaning; in such practices we struggle to domesticate images for our own purposes and for our own studies.  Many visual rhetoric scholars are careful in their work to provide historical context.  Yet historical context too quickly can slip into facile understanding, a comfort that dulls awareness of the rhetorical force of images, for context is always a fiction of our own making, an illusion that fosters delusions.  A good example of this problem of context is the May 1, 2003 “Mission Accomplished” photo of George Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.  This photograph engendered diametrically opposing reactions at the time: some readers saw the photograph as arrogant U.S. military propaganda while others read it as cause for patriotic celebration and praise for President Bush.  In the ensuing months and years, the troubles in Iraq gave and continue to give the image the meaning of self-parody.  None of the readings is invalid; rather, they suggest that the general context of war cannot determine the meaning of this image.  Historical texts, with their varied and multiple contexts, further amplify this point.  As Derrida explains: “Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic . . . can break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts in an absolutely nonsaturable fashion.  This does not suppose that the mark is valid outside its context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any center of absolute anchoring” (Margins of Philosophy 320).


Reading the Circulation of Icons

Instead of trying to domesticate photographs with rhetorical terms irreducibly tied to words—hyperbole, simile, enthymeme—assuredly an involuntary yet unfortunate reflex for rhetorical scholars, Finnegan, Hariman, and Lucaites, among others, are thinking about images in different terms.  If, as Deleuze puts it, thinking is “the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts” (What is Philosophy? 2), then the question becomes: What is their thinking producing, and what is it getting us with respect to the rhetorical force of photographs?  Here it is important to distinguish between transcendent and immanent concepts; for if photography is anything, it is immanent, radically contingent, Barthes’ “that has been.”  Finnegan offers circulation as a concept for making sense of photographs, and Hariman and Lucaites offer “icon.”  Circulation and icon are worthy of development though they risk being transcendent concepts that enable us to read in circles around images without engaging them.  In her fine book, Picturing Poverty: Print Culture and FSA Photographs, Finnegan makes explicit this risk when she explains, “I contend that the power of the FSA photographs’ visual rhetoric may best be understood by situating the images in the contexts of print culture” (xii).  In focusing on contexts instead of the intractable immanence of individual images, Finnegan enacts her “belief that the study of images must remain grounded in the materiality of their rhetorical circulation” (224). With this move, Finnegan opts to favor reading contexts rather than seeing photographs.  There are two problems with Finnegan’s turn to contexts and circulation.  First, such a “grounding” is the sort of “taming” that Barthes warns us about, a taming that enables us to avert our eyes away from the madness, excess, and ecstasy of the singular photograph.  As children of the word, we turn from the photograph to a very particular sort of context, a linguistic context, a context of words, a context we can read.  This disciplinary reflex is evident in Finnegan’s book in both obvious and subtle ways.  The title suggests the submission of photos to words—Picturing Poverty:  Print Culture and the FSA Photographs.  The first paragraph further suggests the primacy of words, opening with an analysis of a speech by FDR.  The privileging of words is reinforced in many of the close readings, wherein Finnegan often credits titles and captions with determining the meaning of photos.  Finnegan’s book illustrates the risks of relying on words to “make sense” of images, a move that inevitably eclipses the intractable immanence of images. 

“Icon” suffers from similar problems.  Since Hariman and Lucaites have fleshed out their concept of icon in several articles and their important book No Caption Needed:  Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, we want to explore what is at stake when deploying the concept icon.  The issues are both theoretical and pragmatic.  Hariman and Lucaites study what they term iconic photographs, such as “Migrant Mother,” “Flag Raising on Iwo Jima,” and “Accidental Napalm.”  In their definition, most explicitly elaborated in the essay “Performing Civic Identity:  The Iconic Photograph of the Flag Raising on Iwo Jima,” iconic photographs have four traits:  they are widely recognized, they are representations of historically significant events, they activate strong emotional response, and they are reproduced across a range of media, genre, or topics (94-95).  Note that the definition of an iconic photograph has nothing to do with the singularity of the photograph itself, the contingency of its material manifestation.  Indeed, there is no way under this definition to look at a photograph in its initial present and discern it to be iconic.  Iconic is a retrospective historical designation.  “Iconic” functions as a transcendent concept, denying the particularity of any singular photograph.  Indeed, it becomes a genre designation.  Further, the definition of an iconic photograph arguably is not even particular to photography as a medium.  A speech, let us say, the Gettysburg Address, can be widely recognized, represent an historical event, activate an emotional response, and be reprinted across a range of media. 

The icon performs two major functions.  First, it “foster[s] social connectedness, political identity, and cultural continuity not because it has a fixed meaning apprehended by all spectators, but because it seems to provide that meaning while allowing more situated identification that includes artistic reworking on behalf of a wide range of attitudes” (111).  As such, the iconic image may manage a basic contradiction or recurrent crisis within the political community (126).  Second, an iconic image “organizes an interpretive frame” (129).  In terms of reproduction, then, “the iconic image surely is an economical way of activating basic conditions of performance and group affiliation” (113).  As in the definition, the description of the functions of iconic photos suggests nothing particular to a singular photograph or even to photography itself.  The concept of icon can just as easily be applied to a speech.  In erasing the singularity of any particular photograph, at best Hariman and Lucaites limit their analysis to studium, the cultural conventions that allow us to read a photograph.  Indeed, their definition and list of functions suggest there is no need at all to study the photograph in its singularity.  Studying the surrounding context, contradictions in the political community, is sufficient.  This position erases that which distinguishes the photograph from the linguistic, what Barthes describes as the photograph’s intractable “that-has-been,” its irrefutable presence (76-85).  In an essay on the “accidental napalm” photo, Hariman and Lucaites briefly gesture to the singularity of the photograph when they admit that the photo “automatically represents both the event and the gap between the event and any pattern of interpretation” (195-96).  The concept of icon ignores the gap and erases the event in favor of interpretation.

These theoretical weaknesses yield pragmatic consequences, especially with respect to how scholars treat images and how scholars choose iconic images.  Hariman and Lucaites read images within the context of Western liberalism.  This is not American liberalism writ small but the larger project of the West linking market capitalism to democracy, what Alain Badiou archly describes as “‘democracy—in its entirely corrupt representative and electoral form—and ‘freedom’ reduced to the freedom to trade and consume” (xii).  This transforms the question from “What do images do?” to “What do images do within and to the political culture of liberalism?”  Their question is an important one, but it represents a key shift away from the images themselves.   Images are reduced to tools within the culture of American democracy always already determined by print.  As Hariman and Lucaites write, “To put it baldly, we believe that photojournalism is an important technology of liberal-democratic citizenship” (2007,18).  To give Hariman and Lucaites credit, it is important that they highlight that images also do important political work: “Photojournalism underwrites democratic-liberal polity by providing resources for thought and feeling that are not registered in the norms of literate rationality that constitute the discourse of political legitimacy in Western societies” (2007,14).  Still, images are just a supplement, albeit a dangerous supplement.  Images are given no ontological status.

In addition to the reduction of images to tools within liberalism, another problem with the imprecise and circular definition of icon involves the selection process.  If there is no method of recognizing icons, then what counts as an icon becomes largely a matter of individual preference and biography.  This problem is amply demonstrated in the selection of icons for No Caption Needed.  First, there are no icons from before 1936.  Even if one were limiting oneself to the twentieth century, can we really expect the first third of the century to be devoid of any iconic images?  Second, and most damaging for the selection process, is that there are no images from the U.S. civil rights movement.  Did this movement, so crucial to American democracy and history, produce no iconic images?  Emmett Till’s monstrously disfigured corpse?  Black students trying to enter Little Rock Central High School?  Nonviolent black protesters being assaulted by Birmingham police dogs and fire hoses?  Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I have a dream” speech to the multitudes on the Washington Mall?  Martin Luther King assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis?  Tommie Lee and John Carlos Smith providing a black power salute on the Olympic medal stand in Mexico City?  Third, in another glaring absence, from the authors’ perspective there are no iconic images from the environmental movement.  None of Ansel Adams’ images qualify.  Greenpeace activists challenging Soviet whaling ships do not count.  Most strikingly, the first images of earth from space, “Earth Rising” and “Whole Earth,” images that inspired Earth Day and transformed human understanding of their place in the universe and that have been deployed endlessly for multiple causes, are not considered iconic.  Our point is not so much to criticize Hariman and Lucaites’ choices, but to illustrate how their theorizing of the concept icon results in a rather arbitrary selection process for what counts as an icon.

Attention to studium gives us a context for making sense of images, allows us to tame images with meanings.  Such an approach rarely captures rhetorical force.  Compared to literature, rhetoric is a pragmatic discipline.  The question for scholars of rhetoric goes beyond what an image means to what an image does in the world.  Guatarri echoes this idea when he writes, “The only question is how anything works, with its intensities, flows, processes, partial objects—none of which mean anything” (Deleuze 22).  To account for rhetorical force, analysis must at least acknowledge what Barthes terms the ecstasy of the photograph that exceeds linguistic domestication.  This does not mean we must completely abandon the methods that yield studium, but it does suggest we need to transform our orientation.  We still read images from the ground of rhetoric, through the screen of words.  What we need instead is to do our work—practice and theorize rhetorical studies—in an image world.  We need to perform rhetorical criticism from the orientation of images.  As academics, we must resist our nostalgia for Gutenberg’s Galaxy.  Approaching images with the mindset and methods of print ensures we will misread them.  Adopting an image orientation, then, is a necessary first step.  Such an adoption points to the potentials of “media rhetorics” or a theory of sites of rhetorical inscription (Angus 122) just as it points us toward McLuhan’s now-cliché declaration “the medium is the message.”  The idea behind “media rhetorics” maintains that “Media of communication constitute primal scenes, a complex of which defines the culture of a given place and time, an epoch of Being” (Angus 190).  So, a linguistic-centered media matrix enacts a language ideology that privileges rational-critical dialogue by independently existing persons with agency.  However, if we take images seriously as public discourse, then rational-critical dialogue doesn’t look like it used to (if it is indeed possible).  What sort of public—what sort of world—does an image-centric media matrix call into being?  Answers to such a concern are broached in the essays in this collection.


Why Image Events?  Speed, Distraction, and Glances

The photographic image is not a representation; it is a fiction.

Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange

Images and new media are central to the rise of the public screen and the eclipse of the public sphere.  The public screen is a constant current of images and words, a ceaseless circulation abetted by the media matrix of television, film, photography, and now the Internet.  The speed of media, the stream of images, and the global reach of media create an ahistorical, acontextual flow of jarring juxtapositions.  The public screen promotes a mode of perception that could best be characterized as “distraction.”  While Habermas’ public sphere, in privileging rational argument, assumed a mode of perception characterized by concentration, attention, and focus, the emergence of our contemporary media matrix fosters a newly dominant mode of perception characterized by distraction and performed in glances.

We are suggesting speed, distraction, and glances as immanent concepts, not transcendent categories that corral images, interpret images, or give us their meaning.  Speed, distraction, and glances are modes of orientation, modes of intensities.  Perhaps the most pressing problem with a concept like “circulation” is that it is dependent on habits of analysis indebted to print, calling for the studious gaze of the academic and reinstantiating the print perspective.  Academic criticism can be understood as akin to the general habits of reading, an intensification but not different in kind.  To read photographs is to skew them into objects palatable for the print gaze. To reconceptualize practice through speed, distraction, and glances, however, calls for critics to encounter images in a manner akin to reading rather than seeing.  As Barthes suggests, “I cannot penetrate, cannot reach into the Photograph.  I can only sweep it with my glance” (106).  Our goal here is not to put forth a method for better capturing the meaning or essence of image events.  Speed, distraction, and glances suggest not a subject dominating an object but a relationship of simultaneous becoming—of images, engaged not as objects of study, corpuses, or corpses, but as Deleuzian bodies, modes that introduce relations of speed and slowness into the social and produce affects.

Our use of the term image event [4] is a declaration that images are ontological.  There are two aspects to this claim.  The first is a response to the alarmingly widespread belief that images are not real and that we live in the real, which is too often corrupted by illusions, the virtual.  In On Photography, Susan Sontag famously condemns the unreality of images as “mere images of Truth” (3).  In the first chapter alone she describes photography as “ghostly traces that give us an imaginary possession of an unreal past. . . . Photos can only give a semblance of knowledge, a semblance of wisdom” (23-24).  If it ever once made sense, the distinction between image and reality is impossible to delineate, never mind justify, in our image-centric media matrix.  As Ron Burnett argues, “To varying degrees, therefore, images have always been an ecological phenomenon.  They have formed an environment.  As images have become increasingly prevalent through mass production, they have redefined human action, interaction, and subjectivity” (89-90).

The second reason for our insistence on the term image event, for the image as event, is that we too often reduce images to representations of the real, confining images to the regime of representation, yoking images to words, anchoring images in logocentrism.  Barthes and Baudrillard articulate the need for the resistance to meaning, a rejection of representation, a terror of taming.  Barthes writes, “The essence of the image is to be altogether outside, without signification. . . . It is precisely in this arrest of interpretation that the photograph’s certainty resides” (106-7).  Baudrillard suggests that photos “resist the moral imperative of meaning” and “the violence of interpretation.”  He continues, “We base our lives, in large part, on the machinery of will and representation, but the real story goes on elsewhere. . . . Traps are always based on resemblance and the greatness of an image lies in its ability to defy all resemblance” (138).  In the face of the natural reflex of making meaning, the disciplinary training to make sense, the Sisyphian task of bridging the existential gap between the meaninglessness of the world and our species’ desire for meaning, it is a terror we need to heed.

In reviewing the state of visual rhetoric scholarship, Bradford Vivian cogently argues that images are enmeshed in practices of seeing that render certain worlds visible and others invisible, certain subjects possible and others impossible.  In noting the tendency to limit images to representations, to yoke images to a restricted rhetoric, Vivian points out “the recurrence of interpretive categories in studies of visual rhetoric that conflate visual with linguistic phenomena in deference to the representational authority of words” (477).  Still, the excess of images always transgresses such bounds and is just as likely to “disrupt communicative attention, rationality, and coherence” (479).

The capacity to transgress points to the event quality of images.  Images are not subsumable to language because the two are fundamentally distinct.  As Derrida notes, “A sign is never an event, if by event we mean an irreplaceable and irreversible empirical particular” (Speech and Phenomena 50).  An image is exactly an event—irreplaceable and irreversible.  As Derrida explains,

An event that remains an event is an arrival, an absolute arrival: it surprises and resists analysis after the fact.  At the birth of a child, the primal figure of the absolute arrivant, you can analyze the causalities, the genealogical, genetic, or symbolic premises, and all the wedding preparations you like.  Supposing this analysis could ever be exhausted, you will never get rid of the element of chance, this place of the taking-place, there will still be someone who speaks, someone irreplaceable, an absolute initiative, another origin of the world.   Even if it must dissolve in analysis or return to ash, it is an absolute spark. (“Artifactualities” 20)

Baudrillard makes clear what is at stake in the confrontation of image as representation versus image as event: “The whole system of information and media is a gigantic machine for producing the event as sign, as value exchangeable on the universal market of ideology, of the star system, of catastrophe, and so on—in short, for producing non-events” (132).  Baudrillard adds, “Only events set free from the information system (and us with them) generate an enormous power of attraction.  They alone are ‘real’, both unforeseeable and predestined, for though there may be nothing to explain them, everything in the imagination is ready to embrace them” (133).


In What Follows

In this collection, four distinct but complementary sections challenge our thinking about visual rhetoric through focused study of the image event.  The opening section, “Theorizing Visual Rhetoric via the Image Event,” includes essays that challenge our traditional notions of rhetoric and public discourse.  Collectively these essays ask:  What is visual rhetoric?  How do we account for the image in rhetorical studies?  How does/Should visual rhetoric employ classical notions of persuasion?  How do we account for the image event?  And what tactics and strategies of the image event qualify as uniquely rhetorical? 

In the opening essay, “The Aesthetics of Protest: Using Images to Change Discourse” Rebecca Jones examines image events through the lens of American pragmatism.  Employing the neo-pragmatism of Stephen Yarbrough and David Donaldson, as well as the fusion of materialism and the symbolic in Susanne Langer’s philosophy, this essay examines contemporary image events and the role of the visual in social protest.  In particular, Jones focuses on three cases (i.e., The Clothesline Project, the AIDS Quilt, and Women in Black) as she understands image events through the designers’ deliberate choices, choices that emphasize the visual rather than the verbal/linguistic as a communicative tool.  As a part of her discussion, Jones explores the use of embodied images, the belief in real experience as evidence, and the use of grassroots, Internet-based networks used to disseminate directions and encouragement for creating a similar localized version of the original event.  As such, this opening essay analyzes image events as rhetorical strategies that yield a new model of protest not focused on Aristotle’s traditional description of public discourse as persuasion but on public discourse as conversation.

Jo Littler’s essay, “Corporate Involvement in Image Events:  Media Stunts, Guerrilla Marketing, and the Problem of Political Interpretation,” suggests that image events have primarily been positioned as de facto subaltern, radical, and leftwing tactics.  Corporations, however, now produce their own versions of image events, and that corporate discourse interacts with the broader field of image events in complex ways.  Littler’s essay attempts to map some of the key forms through which corporations have become involved in the deployment of image events.  She argues that these forms originate in management courses that are themselves designed to rebut staged acts of protest and to marginalize subsequent media fallout.  In the end, Littler’s argument suggests that we might divide corporate deployment of image events into categories that account for corporate “neutralization” of image events, corporate co-option of image events, and political ambivalence of the image events as rhetorical form.

In Kelly McGuire’s “The Art of Disorientation: Image, Event, and the Politics of Response in Three Films about 9/11,” we find an examination of three 9/11 documentaries—one that achieved mainstream popularity, one used by television networks to commemorate the six-month and one-year anniversaries of the day, and one independent short.  This essay offers an understanding of the politics of response surrounding “9/11-as-event.”  McGuire’s aim is to understand the attacks on the World Trade Center as an image event that is aligned with Baudrillard and his theory of a postmodern aesthetic.  Such theorizing leads to a fuller understanding of texts like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the Naudet Brothers’ 9/11, and Richard Linklater’s critically acclaimed Live from Shiva’s Dance Floor and their connection to “a sublime humility” that relies on generative and performative rhetorics.             

In “(Re)Claiming the Ground:  Image Events, Kairos, and Discourse,” Hunter Stephenson argues that an expanded conception of the Greek rhetorical construct kairos allows scholars to better account for the successes and failures of image events.  Defining the image events as action-based (as opposed to word-based) protests specifically designed for dissemination by the media, Stephenson argues that image events aim to change people’s perceptions of ongoing social issues and that these events largely depend on location for their success.  That is, whereas kairos in its conventional usage regards “right timing” and “due measure” as critical elements of argumentation, Stephenson reminds us that the earliest uses of kairos emphasized the spatial or “placing” of discursive acts as equally critical.  This essay highlights this expanded conception of kairos as Stephenson evaluates two image events—deemed successful specifically because they were conducted upon well-chosen “ground”—that were used to bring about changes in seal hunting practices.

The final essay in this opening section is Galia Yanoshevsky’s “The Possibility and Actuality of Image Events:  Framing Image Events in the Press and on the Internet.” In this essay, Yanoshevsky reexamines some of Delicath and Deluca’s (2003) presumptions about the confrontational force and impact of image events.  That is, rather than speaking of the potentiality of image events, she explores how image events function in actuality, once disseminated in the media.  Three case studies of image events concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are analyzed after their release and dissemination in the written press and across the Internet.  Yanoshevsky’s intent is to demonstrate that the picture of image events in actuality is more complex than the one depicted by Delicath and Deluca.  In the end, the collection of essays in this opening section both review existing scholarship on visual and rhetorical theory and challenge that scholarship by interrogating more traditional views of argumentation and persuasion in light of new rhetorical practices, such as the deployment of image events.

In Section 2, “Analyzing Image Events,” readers will find close readings of particular texts, including Allan Sekula’s collection of photographs titled “Waiting for Tear Gas,” the Day of Mourning protest, the use of images in Greenpeace Kleer-cutting campaign in Toronto, and more. 

This second section opens with an historical perspective focused on image events that are available through media of a particular time.  That is, Kristine Fleckenstein’s “Incarnate Word:  Verbal Image, Body Image, and the Rhetorical Authority of Saint Catherine of Siena” explores the dynamic by which Catherine of Sienna (the illiterate daughter of a tanner), in the late fourteenth century, acquired her rhetorical authority and became an advisor to popes and a peacemaker.  In this essay, Fleckenstein argues that this medieval mystic crafted an image event out of verbal images and her own body.  That image event, Fleckenstein suggests, created and deployed during a historical era shaped by the visual regime of identification, enabled Catherine to fuse verbal imagery and body imagery.  Through rich images of the body, Catherine created a visual discourse that challenged the textual conventions of a patriarchal, misogynistic age.  Similarly, Fleckenstein argues, Catherine authorized her textual images of the body by ruthlessly disciplining and displaying her own physical body, using her bodily austerities to endow her verbal images with mystical power. Harnessed to her body and informed by the visual regime of identification, Catherine’s words became flesh, enabling her to acquire the power necessary to persuade the papacy.

 Philip Armstrong’s “Waiting for the Tear Gas:  Sekula in Seattle” situates the 1999 mass protests in Seattle, Washington, against the World Trade Organization (WTO) as an inaugural event for networked resistance to global capitalism and the creation of new assemblages of political organization.  Armstrong’s essay turns on a reading of Waiting for Tear Gas, a series of widely circulated photographs by Allan Sekula that refuses to situate the protests as a movement founded in “cyberspace.”  What emerges instead is a series of photographs in which emphasis is placed on the “new face” of protest, a face that appears less around a language of position, identity, and representation than one of exposure and exteriority.  In this sense, the essay argues that the conditions informing photographic reproducibility also transform the very “grammar” of the political subject from questions of identity to the possibilities of collectivity and co-existence.

Jason Edward Black’s “Re/Performing and Re/Claiming Native America:  Image Events in the Thanksgiving Day of Mourning Protest” interrogates the use of image events by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), specifically how the group uses performance to mark a blending of internal and external ends in contemporary American Indian protest.  That is, part of maintaining Native identities involves cultural performance in the public sphere.  As Hollywood depictions of the “spiritual, noble savage as the archetype of the Indian” continue garnering attention and prevalence, however, American Indian identity becomes performed in non-traditional ways.  In order to contest negative, inaccurate depictions of Indian-ness, contemporary Native protest must combat spurious performances with culturally accurate performances.  The UAINE remains one such group that engages in performative rhetoric—particularly through the image event—to secure its Indian-ness. The UAINE organizes its annual Thanksgiving Day protests at Plymouth Rock to “right the wrongs” of the American myth regarding the Pilgrim’s landing and their so-called “brotherly” treatment of America’s indigenous populations.  In the end, Black argues that the UAINE engages in performances to re/claim American Indian identities by challenging European-American conceptions of Indian-ness.

In “Kleer-cut(ting) Downtown: The Visual Rhetoric of Greenpeace’s Quest  to Save the Boreal Forest” Derek Foster analyzes image events used by Greenpeace Canada to raise awareness of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation’s policies and products that endanger the boreal forest.  In doing so, Foster demonstrates how the form and function of image events as visual rhetoric engender democratic engagement.  They draw attention to citizenship as a process, a potentially unruly site of public action, questioning everyday practices, and challenging authorities and institutions.  As a visual practice, he argues, image events are protest-driven cultural performances that help to define the contours of “publics and counterpublics” (Warner 413-14).  These protests should be seen as advancing a distinct form of rhetorical democracy.  If the rhetorical democracy of the twenty-first century—what Foster refers to here as “dramatistic democracy”—rests on the hurly-burly of civil society, and such expressions are frequently uncivil, then he urges it makes sense to view the visual confrontations of image events as rhetoric designed to maintain, create, and challenge our collective identities.

In the concluding essay of this section, Amy Shore and Joe Wilferth analyze the changing media face of Big Tobacco in the era of social marketing.  In “Signing Resistance: Big Tobacco in the Era of Social Marketing,” these coauthors focus on the evolution of the image event as rhetorical tactic.  Focusing on “the truth™” campaign and its use of “professional” image events that aim to expose the functioning of corporate capitalism, specifically in Big Tobacco in the United States, Wilferth and Shore explore the development of the professional image events—in this case, one funded by the American Legacy Foundation and produced by a high-profile, Boston-based marketing firm—and they characterize such an artifact as a “subvertisement.”  The reaction to such a subvertisement by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds corporations was a co-opted image event—a “revertisement” or advertising that re-presents the corporations as socially responsible entities.  These coauthors demonstrate through the deployment of these dialogic image events the potential exhaustion of the image event as form.  This essay, like those included in this second section, connect to the following essays on activism and pedagogy (i.e., on the teaching of civic engagement and the employment of image events). 

Section 3, “Activism and/in Pedagogy,” is especially relevant for educators and students of activism as it outlines the importance of teaching rhetorical and civic engagement and as it demonstrates from “insider” perspectives what active participation in public discourse means.  Eric Mason’s “Moving Thumos:  Images, Emotion, and Activism,” for example, relates the circulation and success of image events to the enthymeme.  Operating from the standard definition of an enthymeme, derived from Aristotle, as an incomplete syllogism (i.e., an argument in which a premise is intentionally left unexpressed so that the audience can supply it themselves, thereby participating in their own persuasion) Mason suggests that such a means of argumentation is difficult to apply to visual arguments.  In order to better understand how persuasion occurs through visual media, then, this essay forwards an understanding of visual enthymemes built around the concept of thumos, the Greek term for “spiritedness” or “mind” or “passion” or “heart.”  Recognizing thumos or “the capacity for emotion, for passion” as the heart of the enthymeme,  this non-Aristotelian approach to the enthymeme reveals how images participate in future-oriented discourse that relies on style, kairos and visual topoi (visual commonplaces) to create events that affect the thumoi of viewers.  Pointing toward recent scholarly work on emotion and images, Mason supports the efficacy of such events by providing an understanding of how activists can effectively engage the public through visual media.

An especially practical piece, “Kairos and New Media:  Toward a Theory and Practice of Visual Activism” by Anthony Michel, Jim Ridolfo, and David M. Sheridan, explores the potential for visual activism at the local level.  Mindful that the visual rhetoric of image events can be a particularly powerful way to “contest social norms and deconstruct the established naming of the world” (DeLuca, Image Politics 59), these coauthors inquire into the preconditions necessary for successful visual activism at the level of small groups and individuals.  They begin with the vexed concept of the public sphere, focusing on the crucial issue of access.  Assuming, along with Jacobson and Storey, that a functional public sphere demands a “symmetrical distribution of opportunities to contribute to discussion “ (103), they focus on the image event as an important means for addressing asymmetries of power resulting from unequal access.  Image events are effective, in part, because as content valued by the media they are circulated via media channels otherwise inaccessible to activists.  To demonstrate how image events may increase access, Michel, Ridolfo, and Sheridan focus on an example wherein student activists in the anti-sweatshop campaign at Michigan State University (MSU) took over the administration building and danced to salsa music.  This example, they argue, provides a particularly rich example of how activists effectively plan image events with a focus on processes of rhetorical circulation.  Specifically, they examine the ways that activists orchestrated the event to secure written and photographic coverage in web-based and print versions of three separate newspapers, and they theorize this anticipatory planning in terms of the classical concept of kairos.  Although traditionally applied to strategies of verbal persuasion, they expand kairos to include decisions about modes, media, and technology.  Ultimately, these coauthors describe a pedagogical approach designed to help students become effective visual activists by attending to this revised concept of kairos.

In “Critical/Ludic Performatives: A Case Study in the Serious Play of Environmental Activism,”Jonathan Gray explores the work of Commissioner Leaf Myczack, a self-proclaimed “earth cop” who polices the waters of eastern Tennessee to protect them from pollution.  Gray’s essay examines how Myczack’s workshops for environmental activists provide a rich case study for examining environmental activist strategies, including especially the poaching of the visual cues of law enforcement for grassroots environmental activism.  In so doing, Gray compares Myczack’s work to that of other “hoax artists.”  Using the performativity theory of Austin and Lyotard as tools for unpacking Myczack’s activist strategies, Gray situates his work within disputing discourses of socially constructed nature and wilderness advocacy as well as distinctions between ludic and critical postmodernism. 

In the final essay of this third section, “Inhabiting Spaces of Resistance:  A Meditation on Co-Performative Acts of Protest,” Cindy Spurlock examines the affective ways in which image events are complicated by on-the-ground encounters and embodiments that are mediated in situ.  Particular mediated image events, she argues, fail to convey their nuances through the screens of TV or the Internet.  A “public scene” is replaced by “publics seen.”  She suggests that at the articulation of materiality and discourse a site/sight of activism emerges that complicates both the notion of what rhetoric does “in place” and how place “does” rhetoric in a way that moves beyond mere scene as a critical category.  Drawing on a diverse yet complementary body of literature, Spurlock’s essay brings both Deleuze and Foucault into conversation with contemporary social movement research to argue that the recent privileging of the I/eye modality denies the rhetorical, affective possibilities of becoming/subjectivity which emerge on the ground regardless of an image event’s circulation as such.

In the final section of this collection, the contributors probe and explore new and evolving technologies that now mediate images and image events.  Similarly, from websites (e.g., groups on MySpace and select weblogs) to podcasting and viral video, the essays in this final section explore issues of mediation and distribution through new sites of and new channels for public discourse.

 While a teacher in a large urban university, Virginia Kuhn decided that her primary role as a teacher was to engage students to make them aware of the image-rich media that inundate their daily lives.  In “Performing Life:  Whose Pictures are Worth One Thousand Words?” Kuhn discusses her attempts at teaching image analysis (or the analysis of visual rhetoric) and visual literacy through text/image production.  She explains that while students began to see themselves as producers of visual texts, capable of adding to public discourse through the use of images rather than passively consuming images, they were less clear about the relative impact such work might exert upon social issues and student concerns.  In describing her course and her teaching—Multicultural America, a course with a mandatory service learning requirement—she explains that she discovered particular tools (i.e., Night Kitchen’s TK3 reader and author software) for the creation of textual-visual-digital documents.  In short, Kuhn and her students discovered ways to merge the production of visual arrangements with political, social, or cultural intervention.  This chapter narrates the pedagogical scaffolding Kuhn employed for teaching visual literacy in a digital age. 

In “Troubling Images:  PETA’s ‘Holocaust on Your Plate’ and the Limits of Image Events” Richard King examines PETA’s  “Holocaust” campaign and concentrates on the organization’s use of imagery from the Shoah to advance its cause.  Specifically, King contends that this specific image event exemplifies a significant feature of contemporary cultural politics—namely that movements for social justice today invoke the experiences, positions, or treatment of historically marginalized (racial or ethnic) groups to call attention to inequity, oppression, and mistreatment.  Such an invocation allows groups like PETA to speak to broad audiences about pain, power, and praxis.  King’s analysis suggests 1) that the imagery employed by PETA offends and inspires, 2) that PETA claims injury and victimization, even as it potentially injures and victimizes others, and 3) that PETA’s critique through shock has little lasting significance.  In short, its visual rhetoric is conflicted and context-dependent, scripting great political theater with powerful evocative force, while exposing some of the contradictions and limitations of image events in the United States. 

In “Virtual Vietnam Veterans Memorials as Image Events:  Exorcising the Specter of Vietnam,” Neil Baird argues for an extension of the image event to include virtual/online memorials.  Specifically, he argues that while the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (and the consequences of its rhetoric) has been explored, most notably by Carole Blair, Kristin Ann Hass, and others, the proliferation of websites devoted to simulating certain aspects of the memorial has received little attention.  Baird’s investigation targets the ways in which The Virtual Wall™, a virtual memorial, contributes to an ongoing desire in America to exorcise the specter of Vietnam.  Using the rhetorical theory of Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, this essay explores the way The Virtual Wall™ establishes its authority to represent the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, how its homepage and reciprocal links to other websites—specifically The VietnamWall.org and The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall-USA)—creates structures that prescribe the way readers/visitors experience virtual representations of the Wall.  The same structures manage to control the way people perform themselves and the memory of those they lost by limiting their participation and their subject positions.  Such an investigation, Baird suggests, illustrates the ways in which virtual image events reflect the larger culture of mythologization, medicalization, and disappearance as these phenomena work to exorcise the specter of Vietnam.

In “Image Events Guerrilla Girl Style:  A Twenty Year Retrospective” Christine Tulley focuses on the Guerrilla Girls, masters of the public spectacle and “conscience of the male-dominated art scene in New York City” for the last twenty years.  By taking the names of dead female artists as pseudonyms and wearing gorilla masks in public appearances, Tulley argues that the Guerilla Girls anonymously call attention to discrimination against female artists through a variety of outlets in visual culture, including their earliest “postering” of city walls and vandalism in art museum bathrooms to newer and highly stylized visual and rhetorical parody that blends humor with sarcasm across various media to create a range of image events.  In the end, Tulley suggests that such image events do not necessarily foster social change.

Finally, in Dylan Wolfe’s “The Meatrix:  Resonant Reversal on a Counterpublic Screen,” we find the author examining the widely disseminated, computer-animated video The Meatrix in an attempt to understand how cultural reference produces resonance, counters the norms of a dominant public, and engenders the creation of a distinct counterpublic.  Wolfe suggests that specific elements in the animation itself show how cultural ideals are challenged without repulsing the viewer, at once attracting and contesting.  The Meatrix makes use of the culturally pervasive Matrix narrative and characters to draw in and challenge an audience.  Wolfe contends that the video’s unique quality as a new media image event, as “viral flash activism,” makes a multiple public through rhizomatic production.  A rhizomatic dissemination functions by engaging our highly visual culture through what DeLuca and Peeples call a “public screen.”  Study of The Meatrix and the public screen demonstrates how an alternative text generates its own public as it also demonstrates the possibilities for alternative rhetors to enter into discourse outside the mainstream press, to engage a public through a rhizomatic dissemination of screen image, and to produce a counterpublic.  Wolfe ultimately considers rhetorical engagement with a counterpublic screen.


Works Cited

Angus, Ian.  (Dis)figurations: Discourse, Critique, Ethics.  London:  Verso, 2000.

Badiou, Alain.  Being and Event.  New York: Continuum, 2007.

Barthes, Roland.  Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.  Trans. Richard Howard.  London:  Flamingo/Fontana, 1984.

Baudrillard, Jean.  Impossible Exchange.  Trans. Chris Turner.  New York:  Verso, 2001.

Berger, John.  Ways of Seeing.  London:  Penguin, 1972.

Blakesley, David.  “Defining Film Rhetoric: The Case of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.”  Defining Visual Rhetorics.  Ed. Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers.  Mahwah, New Jersey:  Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. 111-133.

Booth, Wayne.  “The Scope of Rhetoric Today: A Polemical Excursion.”  The Prospect of Rhetoric.  Ed. Lloyd Bitzer and Edwin Black.  Englewood Cliffs:  Prentice Hall, 1971. 93-114.

Burgin, Victor.  Editor.  “Looking at Photographs.”  Thinking Photography.  London:  Macmillan, 1982.

Burnett, Ron.  How Images Think.  Cambridge:  MIT Press, 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles.  Negotiations: 1972-1990.  Trans. Martin Joughin.  New York:  Columbia UP, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari.  Anti-Oedipus.  New York:  Viking, 1977.

___ .  What is Philosophy?  Trans. Janis Tomlinson and Graham Burchell III.  New York:  Columbia UP, 1996.

Delicath, John W. and Kevin Michael Deluca.  “Image Events, The Public Sphere, and Argumentative Practice: The Case of Radical Environmental Groups.”  Argumentation 17 (2003):  315-333.

DeLuca, Kevin Michael.  The Speed of Immanent Images: The Dangers of Reading Photographs.”  In Visual Communication and Social Change: Rhetorics and Technologies, Ed. Diane Hope.  Hampton Press, 2006.

___ . Image Politics: The New Rhetoric of Environmental Activism.  New York: Guilford, 1999.

DeLuca, Kevin Michael and Jennifer Peeples.  “From Public Sphere to Public Screen: Democracy, Activism, and the Violence of Seattle.”  Critical Studies in Media Communication 19.2 (2002):  125-151.

Derrida, Jacques.  Margins of Philosophy.  Chicago, Illinois:  University of Chicago Press, 1982.

___ .  Speech and Phenomena.  Chicago, Illinois:  Northwestern University Press, 1973.

Derrida, Jacques and Bernard Stiegler.  “Artifactualities.”  Echographies of Television:  Interviews.  Cambridge, UK:  Polity, 2002.

Enos, Theresa and Stuart C. Brown.  Introduction.  Defining the New Rhetorics.  Ed. Theresa Enos and Stuart C. Brown.  Newbury Park: Sage, 1993.

Finnegan, Cara A.  Picturing Poverty:  Print Culture and FSA Photographs.  Washington: Smithsonian, 2003.

Finnegan, Cara A.  “Rhetorical Circulation and Visual Politics.”  William Kern Conference on Visual Communication:  Rhetorics and Technologies.  Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester.  April 2003.

Godzich, Wlad.  The Culture of Literacy.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1994.

Gronbeck, Bruce E.  “Rhetoric, Ethics, and Telespectacles in the Post-Everything Age.”  Postmodern Representations: Truth, Power, and Mimesis in the Human Sciences and Public Culture.  Ed. Richard Harvey Brown.  Urbana:  University of Illinois Press, 1995.  217-238.

Handa, Carolyn, ed.  Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.

Hariman, Robert and John Lucaites. No Caption Needed:  Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy.  Chicago, Illinois:  University of Chicago Press, 2007. 

Harrington, John.  The Rhetoric of Film.  New York:  Holt, 1973.

Hill, Charles and Marguerite Helmers, eds.  Defining Visual Rhetorics.  Mahwah, New Jersey:  Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

Jacobson, Thomas L. and J. Douglas Storey.  “Development Communication and Participation: Applying Habermas to a Case Study of Population Programs in Nepal.”  Communication Theory 14.2 (2004): 99-121.

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall.  Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1988.

Lancioni, Judith.  “The Civil War:  A Battleground of Meaning.”  Film & History:  An

Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 38.1 (2008):  21-30.

Mitchell, W.J.T.  Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Sontag, Susan.  On Photography.  New York:  Farrar, 1977.

Vivian, Bradford.  “In the Regard of the Image.”  JAC:  Rhetoric, Writing, Culture, Politics  27.3-4 (2007):  471-504.

Warner, Michael.  “Publics and Counterpublics.”  Quarterly Journal of Speech  88.4 (2002):  413-425.

[1] In this foreword, we emphasize the rhetorical force of images.  In doing so, we are not proposing that there is a purely imagistic discourse, just as there is no purely linguistic discourse.  Discursive acts include, indeed require, both in modern societies.  An analogy would be the nature-culture debate.  To advocate a purified notion of one side is silly.  People are products of both nature and culture.  That said, understanding the distinct influences of nature and culture is significant.  Similarly, while acknowledging that all discourses are linguistic and imagistic, it is worth discerning ratios of rhetorical force.  Too often in discussing images, critics reflexively rely on words as determinant in the last instance.  So, for example, captions direct the interpretation of pictures.  There are two problems with this position.  First, it ignores empirical research on how images and words are perceived.  (The words are often irrelevant).  Second, it ignores the post-structural critique of words and meaning, so that while images are seen to be messy and polysemic, words are seen as transparent anchors of meaning.  As Derrida and others have demonstrated, there is no transcendent signified to anchor the meaning of words.  Words are just as prone to multiple meanings and confusions and distortions and polysemy as images.  A first draft of the argument developed here was put forward in DeLuca (2006).

[2] Emergent is an old literary term adopted by evolutionary biology and reclaimed for the humanities by literary theorist Wlad Godzich (1994).  Emergent suggests something unprecedented, unpredictable, and unexpected.  An emergent characteristic would be consciousness, which occurred outside of a teleological frame.  It was unpredictable, contingent.  Godzich argues that an example from literature is the novel, whose emergence could not have been predicted from earlier forms of literature.

[3] While the idea of the image event has been with us for some time, as several authors in this collection demonstrate, the phrase “image event” was largely popularized by Kevin DeLuca in his 1999 title Image Politics: The New Rhetoric of Environmental Activism.  In that work, scholars came to recognize the image event as a “mind bomb” and as a spectacular event that manages to shift key ideographs that frame debate (e.g., nature, technology, progress) as image events work to recast that debate and its most volatile issues.  The brief definition offered here, with an image event as a “staged act of protest designed for media dissemination,” is from John Delicath and Kevin DeLuca’s “Image Events, the Public Sphere, and Argumentative Practice: The Case of Radical Environmental groups” (1999).  A connection should also be made to Guy Debord’s “image-objects.”  Such events or “image-objects” are spectacular in the sense that they operate as commodity (i.e., what we may align with Debord’s notion of the spectacle).  We come to locate the spectacle, according to Debord, not in a collection of images but in “the social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (12).  The image is commodity in this instance or what Debord identified as “the chief product of present-day society” (16).  It is not money, but it is currency.  Generally (and theoretically) speaking, image events are rhetorical strategies for a new form of social activism that, once reproduced in mass media, become larger than the event itself.  They are purposeful acts, immediately and almost infinitely reproducible.

[4] Although we reference Derrida and Baudrillard on event, Deleuze and Badiou also offer important insights into the event.