Monday, October 17, 2005

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 and 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).

The analyses of Scrutiny in the Great Round and Throwing Apples at the Sun are nuanced and insightful; this got me thinking that I probably ought to spend some time interacting with one of the pieces first-hand.  The analyses are also successful in that the attention to detail and difference effectively demonstrates Wysocki's response to the opening bits, arguing, in effect, that "visual texts can be as pleasurably challenging as some word-full texts" (56).  A few other brief quotations--copied here--round out the essay, which closes with pedagogical assertions:

"But we can compose in new ways only if we acknowledge that the visual and hypertextual aspects of our texts are not monolithic.  Even to say 'the visual' or 'the hypertextual' is to imply that anything that fits under one of those signifiers points to the same signified; the pieces of multimedia I have analyzed show this not to be the case" (57).

"If we want there to be more complex texts in the world and more complex and active readers and citizens, then let's work with people in our classes to make such texts and to develop together the abilities and concerns to help us be the latter" (57).

Kirschenbaum - "The Word as Image in an Age of Digital Reproduction," 137-156
Many people presume that "the boundaries between word and image have never been more permeable than they are now" (136), but images and text are very different data-structures and those differences figure significantly in projects designed to digitize illuminated texts such as William Blake's poetry (141).  Furthermore, image and word are defined by their technical structures; anyone with a dial-up modem understands that image files are larger and slower to load, Kirschenbaum explains.  These distinctive constitutions limit the kinds of "electronic moves" (142)  we can make with words and images.  For tagging and retrieval, this means that images must, in effect, be partnered with a descriptive lexicon; Kirschenbaum shares an example of the "characteristic components" used to identify Blake's "The Shepherd": shepherd, male, young, short, crook, tights, standing, contrapposto, and looking (146).

There are two other examples of text and image complicated by visualization (as in, is it image or is it word?): the Language Visualization and Research group at Cornell (148) and Kirshenbaum's own project using VRML in Lucid Mapping and Codex Transformation in the Z-Buffer (150).  Once the text surrenders into image--as is the case with the 3D narrative project--writing activity slides to second chair, outdone by "the kaleidoscopic visual effects" (153).  With this description of his project, Kischenbaum includes the question, "Can one speak of 'links' in a 3-D writing space, or does the addition of a third dimension foreground the extent to which linking is a 'flatland technology'?" (150).  Hmm.  Flatland technology. About the Lucid Mapping project, Kirshenbaum writes, "I meant to suggest a sentient and directed narrative experience, assembled 'on the fly' in response to changing visual and spatial conditions within a graphical environment: a mapping that then in turn alters the topography of the environment itself, and so on, thus sustaining the classic cybernetic feedback loop" (152).  There is a whole lot more to say about the split between image-text as conceptual blend (or even "aesthetic conceit") and image-text as technically constituted, and I want to look again at this article with more thought about the archival material (how different are the humanities computing initiatives from our own efforts to remake the image-bound archives of CCC Online?).  In as summative of a statement as I could locate, Kirschenbaum ends the article with, "My point is that there are significant ontological continuities with analog media that are not adequately accounted for by casual assertions about the blurred boundaries between word and image" (153).

"The point I want to illustrate through the above discussion is that one cannot talk about words as images and images as words without taking into account the technologies of representation upon which both forms depend" (141).
The notion that digital texts and images are infinitely fluid and malleable is an aesthetic conceit divorced from technical practice, a consensual hallucination in the same way that William Gibson's neuromantic 'lines of light' delineate an imaginative ideal rather than any actual cyberspaces" (154).

Terms: jaggies (142), imageforms (145), image-vector-text and scalability (152), lucid mapping (152)

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