Graduate Preliminary Syllabus: Visual Rhetoric

“When the visual and verbal dance in step, the power of each is magnified.” Kathleen Jamieson

Introduction to the Course
Aristotle defined rhetoric as the faculty of discovering in any given case the available means of persuasion. His inclusion of the phrase “available means” indicates that rhetoric includes modes beyond those of speech or writing, though most rhetorical scholarship and instruction has concentrated on these two modes. The study of rhetoric has always given some emphasis to visual modes through delivery (focusing on, for example, speaker’s looks, textual presentation, and use of visual aids) and style (“showing, not telling” and thereby creating images within the imagination of the audience). Eloquence also was sometimes conceptualized in visual terms, for example as “lively portraiture” (Augustine).

Communication technology advances provide new and more accessible means for creating and distributing visual images and artifacts, though the rhetorical impact remains an under-studied phenomenon. It is important to examine what rhetorical theory can offer to our understanding and interpretation of visual rhetoric.

Visual rhetoric encompasses graphic novels and comics, fashion, body art, cosplay, memorials, sculptures, icons, document design, art installations, political cartoons, and more. If you can see it, it can be understood and examined as visual rhetoric.

In this course, students will:
1. Develop an understanding of the concepts and methods used to rhetorically analyze and interpret visual images and artifacts.
2. Demonstrate ability to engage in rhetorical analysis of visual images and artifacts.
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the rhetorical strategies employed in various primarily visual forms of ?communication including photography, visual art, advertising, and public commemorative activities.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. W.W. Norton and Company, 2008.

Defining Visual Rhetorics. Edited by Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers, Routledge, 2004.

Writing the Visual: A Practical Guide for Teachers of Composition and Communication. Edited by Carol David and Anne R. Richards, Parlor Press, 2008.

Artifacts: Bring in visual rhetoric that relates to (through agreement, through reference, or by contradicting) the readings for that class. Each student must do this at least once per semester.

Posts and Comments: Once a semester you will be asked to respond to the reading in a blog post. Everyone in the class will comment on this post.

Analysis: Choose an artifact and discuss its rhetorical significance twice in the semester—once as a paper (4-6 pages) and once as a digital presentation (5-7 minutes).

How to read a professor's door

from PhDComics

Definition of Rhetoric

I’m always interested in definitions of what rhetoric is, particularly simpler ones which can be understood by non-academics. I have used a selection of rhetoric definitions to introduce rhetoric in my section of the graduate class on history of rhetoric (which I won’t be teaching this next year) as a way to make the students aware of what rhetoric is and to create some of the dissonance that Dr. Janice Lauer believes is significantly responsible for creating learning.

–I find that very ironic considering that I was very uncomfortable with the “throw the baby in the ocean” aspect of my PhD program, but it is a way to start them thinking.

ancient woman with bookKendall R. Phillips, in his introduction to the edited collection Framing Public Memory, wrote that rhetoric is “an art interested in the ways symbols are employed to induce cooperation, achieve understanding, contest understanding, and offer dissent” (2).

While “interested in” seems vague to me, the other aspects of the definition–symbols, cooperation, understanding, and dissent–are particularly noteworthy.

Retrospective S15 History of Rhetoric

This was a bit more tricky than I expected.

We did the blog posts that the first year students had requested and that gave so much great discussion fodder to the second class’ students. The blog posts were excellent when they were done. (One student consistently skipped these.) Student comments on the posts were quite substantive and created a dialogue online about the topics.

In an attempt to move away from the prescriptive assignment of topics, I simply asked students if they had any questions or something to say. They never talked. I was particularly frustrated by this, as it meant that I ended up lecturing for a good part of the class each night.

On the last day of our section, I found out that they had wanted to talk and were waiting for me to call on them individually. Personally I think that is odd, but they are first-year grad students and apparently their other teacher did that.

Resolution Options:
Next time I could once again assign discussion questions to individual students (or perhaps to two each).

Another option would be to tell students that they must be prepared for a discussion and can use the discussion questions to help them consider points, if they don’t have something they are already intrigued by.

The benefit of the problem was that I developed ideas on several relevant topics in an in-depth way to talk to the students about them. These were more applications of rhetorical ideas than a development of historical rhetoric and rhetorical ideas.

Perhaps I could work on additional development of historical lectures to add to the class. More on Paul and sophistic rhetoric, for example.

Other Poster

This poster isn’t as cool as the two I’ve already posted, but I thought maybe I should keep posting to remind me that I’m supposed to print these and actually put them up.

The text says:

Novice, journeyor, or expert in science fiction…
Boldly go where no class has gone before.

The image is from Wikimedia Commons, by Kjp993 under a Creative Commons 3.0 license:
TNG_combadge Star trek for boldy go class poster by Kjp993 WC CC3

HOF: For new grad students

Mangojuice, you mentioned that you were going to do some reading over the summer. Here’s a suggestion (it was one of the most helpful assignments I got early in grad school):

Choose a minor work that you know reasonably well, and read everything published on it in the last 25-50 years (keeping the amount manageable is why you choose a minor work).

As you read, take note of the following:

What are the major issues that have been addressed in the scholarship?
What are the major differences in interpretation represented in the scholarship?
What are the major differences in theoretical approach represented?
What are the trends in interpretation/theoretical approach over the time period you’re reading?
Given what’s gone before, what seem to be the most knotty unsolved issues and the best questions for future research?

In doing this, you’re not looking for specific evidence to support an argument you already have in mind, but getting an overview of the scholarly conversation on the work and seeing where you might usefully enter that conversation.

Also, notice the range in quality of published work. Which scholars do you admire most, and what qualities does that research and writing have? How far from producing that kind of work are you right now?

I learned a tremendous amount from this exercise. It was both humbling (because of the articles I would have given a limb to have written) and encouraging (even early in grad school, I could have written some of the stuff I read). I ended up both knowing that I could certainly publish someday and knowing I had a long way to go to be able to publish the kind of work I wanted to publish.

from caesura

HOF: The lightbulb has to want to change.

No matter how stellar the course design is, no matter how pedagogically brilliant the in- or out-of-class assignments are, no matter how well your carrots and sticks are set up to reward or discourage given behaviors, in the end you are still ultimately powerless to make change happen. There is no magic assignment structure, no perfect metaphor (and God knows I’ve tried thousands), no enlightenment-guaranteed koan that will make every student go “Oh! NOW I get it!”

lightbulb-smThe lightbulb has to want to change.

… I don’t mean to say that no student will be motivated by your efforts — you will undoubtedly catch the ones who are really genuinely interested in learning. But it’s important to accept that there is no way to craft a net that will catch 100% of the fish. They are more interested in escaping than you ever could be in catching them.

From voxprincipalis