Eloquent Images II

Wysocki – "Seriously Visible," 37-59
First, hypertexts, in their affordances of choice, are inherently engaging, and
these engaging properties (engagementalities?) extend to civic and democratic
practices (freedom, liberty, etc.).  Second, predominantly visual documents
are unserious; they are the stuff of children’s books–lite, silly and
non-rigorous. Wysocki opens with these old feints, and offers "responsive
counterexamples" elaborated through analyses of
Scrutiny in the
Great Round
Throwing Apples
at the Sun
, two visualmedia pieces.  Before introducing the
counterexamples, Wysocki thickens the air with surveys of the critical tensions
invested in the opening positions.  To set up the idea of hypertext reader
as civic agent, she cites Lanham, Bolter, Edward Barrett (cognitive science),
Woodland, Nielsen, then extends to Mill, Habermas and Virilio to explain the
correlation between hypertext as choice and the dependence of public sphere on
divergent opinions.  Importantly, Wysocki includes a section in the essay
(40-41) to acknowledge the "quickness of [her] preceding arguments" before
imparting a second survey of positions suggesting that the visual is elementary,
again from Habermas and Virilio.  Included here are a series of scholars who
have called for renewed attention to the complexity and dimension of images
(42-43).  Before shifting into the analysis of the visualmedia pieces,
Wysocki explains,

The assumption behind the critique of the visual is that we take
in what we see, automatically and immediately, in the exact same way as everyone
else, so that the visual requires no interpretation and in fact functions as
though we have no power before it[…]; the assumption behind the celebrations
of hypertext is that any text that presents us with choice of movement through
it necessarily requires interpretation (43).

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Mitchell – Picture Theory (1994)

Some risk involved in beginning with a leap; Mitchell’s Picture Theory
splinters through the title’s pun–a theory of pictures and theory pictured or
picture-able.  In the introduction, Mitchell calls the problem of the 21st
C. a problem of the image.  This opens onto difficulties with the
relationship between word and image, mapping and organizing fields of
representation, and discord between reading proper and spectatorship (3). 
Fumble them as we inevitably will, these and other differences might seem less
gnarled if we "adopt Michel de Certau’s terminology and call the attempt to
describe [them] a ‘heterology of representation’" (5).

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A This-side of Language

On trauma and image from RB, "The Photographic Message":

These few remarks sketch a kind of differential table of photographic
connotations, showing, if nothing else, that connotation extends a long way. 
Is this to say that a pure denotation, a this-side of language, is
impossible? If such a denotation exists, it is perhaps not at the level of
what ordinary language calls the insignificant, the neutral, the objective,
but, on the contrary, at the level of absolutely traumatic images.  The
trauma can be seized in a process of photographic signification but then
precisely they are indicated via a rhetorical code which distances, sublimates
and pacifies them.  Truly traumatic photographs are rare, for in
photography the trauma is wholly dependent on the certainty that the scene
‘really’ happened: the photographer had to be there (the mythical
definition of denotation).  Assuming this (which, in fact, is already a
connotation), the traumatic photograph (fires, shipwrecks, catastrophes,
violent deaths, all captured ‘from life as lived’) is the photograph about
which there is nothing to say; the shock-photo is by structure insignificant:
no value, no knowledge, at the limit no verbal categorization can have a hold
on the process instituting the signification.  One could imagine a kind
of law: the more direct the trauma, the more difficult its connotation; or
again, the ‘mythological’ effect of a photograph is inversely proportional to
its traumatic effect. (30)

"The more difficult its connotation…," close to what Jeff posted
Monday at
this Public Address on

spectacle, disaster and "signature images."

Barthes – The Photographic Message (1961)

Press photographs.  Barthes refers to several such photographs in this
essay from 1961.  He was concerned with contending orders of connoted
and denoted meanings operable in the reading of photographs. The
"photographic paradox," as he puts it, involves the double structure of
contending linguistic orders (connotative, denotative) and the photograph as
, "a message without code" (17).  Paradoxically, the press
photograph bears a "continuous message" sustained in the two significant
structures (of which "only one is linguistic"…either accompanying text or
description). Barthes calls the relationship between the image and the text
"contiguous" rather than "homogenous" (16). And so the photograph must be read
with some awareness of these variations, which lead to variations in meaning.
Barthes: "What can at least be done now is to forecast the main planes of
analysis of photographic connotation" (20).

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