Glossary Terms: 3/13

Visual: Sousanis simplifies this term by comparing it with verbal modes, which “march along linearly, step by step, a discrete sequence of words” (59). He then goes on to say “the visual, on the other hand…presents itself all-at-once, simultaneous, all over, relational” (59). Rose takes this similar concept and discusses it throughout an entire book chapter, and finally settles on the idea that “visual imagery is never innocent; it is always constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledges” (32). [HD]

Flatness: Unflattening explores the concepts of flattening and unflattening throughout the book, but Sousanis immediately provides readers with what he means by flatness: “Like a great weight descending…suffocating and ossifying, flatness permeates the landscape. This flatness is not literal, no. It cloaks its true nature under a hyper-real facade…This is a flatness of slight, a construction of possibilities…where inhabitants conform to what Marcuse called ‘a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior’” (5-6). With this introduction, it is clear that Sousanis will further explore humans sometimes narrow view of the world and universe. [HD]


  1. I’m glad you chose to highlight these two concepts, Hillary. Your discussion of “visual” seems to provide a core piece for understanding why we study visual rhetoric. Because visuals are inevitably constructed–just like all knowledge and language in the world–we need to study it in order to understand how visuals work to communicate knowledge across audiences who may have different relationships to the visual.

    Also, to speak briefly to the idea of flattening/unflattening and why it feels appropriately paired with the concept of visual. I think this is a great way to conceptualize the idea of a persons’s perspective / way of thinking. If we are only looking at an image or the world from our own narrowed perspective–thinking that we already know what we ought to see–that is precisely what we will see. Our flatness limits our ability to understand something more globally, and as a result, often shapes the way we construct visuals / our view of the world. There is danger is perpetuating our own flatness… if we never position ourselves to understand or explore another perspective, we are limited in our ability to relate to others and construct meaning with or for them.

  2. I really liked this idea of flatness, “This flatness is not literal, no. It cloaks its true nature under a hyper-real facade…” I have to admit that maybe I was being a little “flat” when first flipping through this text, I was thinking there were creepy pictures and what am I going to make out of this because of these drawings. I was limiting the meaning of the visuals.

  3. I too really enjoyed Sousanis’ idea of flatness, but it did trouble some questions for me. In the interlude, where he discusses Flatland by Edwin Abbott, the main character (A. Square) is visited by a three-dimensional sphere. The sphere attempts to explain the third dimension to the square, but in failing to do so with words, it pulls A. Square up out of the second dimension in order to show him/her. With this in mind, does this pose a problem for unflattening? Specifically, is there a limit to how far someone can “unflatten” their thinking without being shown a new way? What if someone exists in a community quagmired in unoriginal thoughts? Is this person doomed to only unflatten so far? As I understand, humans do not know what a fourth dimension would LOOK like – is there limits to our faculties that may prevent us from fully unflattening?

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