Brooke Notes (2/6)

awaywithwords: On the possibilities in unavailable designs

Wysocki, A. F. (2005). awaywithwords: On the possibilities in unavailable designs. Computers and Composition, 22, 55-62.


  • Affordances
  • Image
  • Space
  • Visual Rhetoric
  • Word

In her article, Wysocki begins with the assumption that words and images are not necessarily bound logically and respectively with space and time. To frame this, she uses the example of water, stating that our early ancestors would not use water to attack a mammoth. This view of water, however, changes as we acquire the technology to pressurize and, by extension, acquire the capacity to weaponize water. Wysocki utilizes the varied use of water “as an analogy for the materials we use in building communications” (56). She then invokes Gunther Kress’ notion that we must consider social and cultural context, purpose, audience, along with communication strategy and materials when designing communication materials, but pushes this idea further by examining the material constraints, why they are constraints, and why those particular constraints are imposed.

The first constraint Wysocki addresses is the use of space between words, which became prevalent when texts moved from social contexts to individual arenas. She references Paul Saenger’s idea that “how we use space on pages affects how we read and understand,” and, further, affects “how we understand what words, texts, and reading are” (57). Additionally, Wysocki references Susan Howe’s proposal that the act of editing texts that restricts punctuation and unconventional spacing mirrors an American desire to tame wilderness, be that wilderness be specific or metaphoric. This notion can also be applied to space in paper margins or the design of a book layout. Wysoki claims, in order to help students question these ideas about how we have come to understand the use of words and space, the conventions of which are largely unquestioned.

Wysocki returns to Kress’ discussion, pointing out that, by accepting his position of word governance as temporal and sequential, it is no surprise that he takes images as holding opposing qualities from words – that of spatial and simultaneous logic. Wysocki argues this point by explaining W.J.T. Mitchell’s position that “we should acknowledge that when we work with what is on pages or other surfaces, alphabetic text is always part of what must be visually arranged “ (58). Additionally, Wysocki posits that images exceed logics of space and can evoke a sense of time – both in the sense that particular elements in an image are arranged to invite ordering, and in the sense that “temporal strategies of composition are very much present even in images that we can apparently perceive all at once” (58). Regardless, Wysocki believes that we cannot simply impose Kress’ definition of “image” to “word,” as this would restrain it to the very constraints we are questioning.

To sum up the paper, Wysocki juxtaposes two medias – that of a tattoo and that of a film – to explain how their uses of time and space (and by extension, their social functions and interpretations), are quite different. Thus, to use a term, such as “image,” to classify objects functioning “in opposition to word is thus either to make an arbitrary cut into the world of designed visual objects or to try to encompass a class so large the encompassing term loses function” (59). Wysocki ends by a call to action – encouraging her readers to see beyond the commonly accepted constraints of “words” and “images” – to try new practices and conventions and to expand what is possible in communication materials.

Works Cited
Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and Women: The reinvention of nature.   New York: Routledge.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge.

The New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In Bill Cope & Mary Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures (9-37). London: Routledge.


  • “If how we conceive of water is inseparable from place and time, how can our communication materials, for which we can make no similar claim to naturalness as we can with water, be otherwise?” (56)
  • “If we are to help people in our classes learn how to compose texts that function as they hope, they need consider how they use the spaces and not just one time that can be shaped on pages. They also need to question how they have come to understand the spaces of pages so that they can, if need be, use different spaces, potentially powerful spaces that… have been rendered unavailable by naturalized, unquestioned practice.” (57)
  • “If human practices do entwine, as I have been arguing, to the extent that the spacing of lettershapes on a piece of paper reflects and helps continue unquestioned restrictions on behavior or that a habit of understanding words and images as opposites reflects and helps continue beliefs about relations between men and women, then it is possible that trying new spaces on pages or exploring the visuality of alphabetic text can be seeds for changes in such practices and beliefs. But we can only do this if we look beyond what appear to be constraints.” (59)


  • It seems as though Wysocki directs her attention ONLY to the visual aspects of any of her given examples and it makes me wonder – in some mediums, such as film, can we study the “visual” separate from other sensory inputs, such as auditory, tactile (specifically eating popcorn when going to a movie), and olfaction (the “smells” of the movie theatre experience), etc.?
  • At what point would not following conventions – or breaking through constraints – be counterproductive to getting the idea or message across to our audience?Does the audience first need to accept that a constraint need be broken?
  • Are there any scholars who have begun tackling the use of visuals, space, and time in the world of virtual reality?