Brooke Notes: 3/20


Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.


perspective, imagination, self-awareness, viewpoint, seeing, constraints


Our imagination fills the gaps in our understanding. Our understanding of new things relies on what we know. Awareness of what we know allows us to venture into the unknown. The unknown is sought to feed our imagination.

Works Cited

Aiken, Nancy E. The Biological Origins of Art. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Moore, Alan. Watchmen. Illustrations and lettering by Dave Gibbons. Colorist John Higgins. New York: DC Comics, 1987.


“When ideas are written in stone with the certainty that we got it right, we risk following without reflection” (110).

“Through repetition over time, we become proficient. Forming habits is essential so we do not have to relearn every activity continually” (111).

“To set ourselves free, we can’t simply cut our bonds. For to remove them (if we could) would only set us adrift, detached from the very things that make us who we are” (134).


What is the significance of restraints in relationship to developing an identity?


Abbott, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions. London: Seeley, 1884. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1952.

On the surface, Flatland is a quaint story about A. Square, resident of the two-dimensional Flatland, exploring different lands of different dimensions.  The book, moreover, is an analysis on the effects of different perspectives within different spaces, and how those perspectives conform or disconnect to the worldview of others. [CR]

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.

Campbell explores the commonality between different themes throughout many different mythologies.  The main theme is the hero’s journey, or the main character’s development from inexperienced youth to wise master.  How this journey is portrayed is analyzed through the difference perspectives. [CR]

Gravett, Paul. Graphics Novels: Everything You Need to Know. New York: Collins Design, 2005.

Gravett analyzes the effectiveness of the medium of graphic novels through his exploration of thirty of the most prolific ones.  Through those examples, the author discusses different themes, influences from outside of the United States, and even how to view graphic novels. [CR]

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

As the title of the book implies, Latour introduces the concept of Actor-Network-Theory, where objects participate in the construction of social objectives.  Latour argues for this viewpoint as opposed to the one where the social is just a collection of viewpoints applied to certain situations. [CR]

Shlain, Leonard. Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. New York: Morrow, 1991.

Although art and physics may seem diametrically opposed, Shlain explores in his book that they are more connected than people will acknowledge.  He analyzes the development of both throughout history, revealing how art has often predicted the trajectory of the development of physics. [CR]

Brooke Notes – Sonja Foss, “Theory of Visual Rhetoric” – 2/27

Foss, Sonja. “Theory of Visual Rhetoric.” Handbook of Visual Communication: Theory, Methods, and Media, edited by Ken Smith, Sandra Moriarty, Gretchen Barbatis, and Keith Kenney, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005, pp. 141-52. 

Summary: Foss provides a brief history of visual rhetoric’s place within the larger collection of rhetorical theory. She argues that visual rhetoric has two meanings–communicative artifacts, and the scholarly perspective used to study the communicative artifacts. She goes on to argue that visually rhetorical artifacts must showcase symbolic action, human intervention, and an authentic audience, while the visual rhetoric perspective seeks to understand an artifacts nature, function, and evaluation. Ultimately, Foss argues for a more inclusive understanding of rhetorical theory that not only recognizes verbal discourse, but visual discourse as well.

Keywords: visual rhetoric, images, symbolic action, human intervention, audience, perspective, communication, nature, function, evaluation, deductive, inductive


  1. “Although a natural affinity appears to exist between rhetoric and visual symbols, the inclusion of visual imagery in rhetorical study has not been the seamless process that the above narrative suggests” (142).
  2. “That the study of visual images continued and, indeed, now flourishes in rhetorical studies is because of a number of factors. Primary among them is the pervasiveness of the visual image and its impact on contemporary culture… To restrict the study of symbol use only to verbal discourse means studying a minuscule portion of the symbols that affect individuals daily” (142).
  3. “The study of visual imagery from a rhetorical perspective also has grown with the emerging recognition that visual images provide access to a range of human experiences not always available through the study of discourse” (143).
  4. “As a result of nascent efforts to explore visual phenomena rhetorically, the term visual rhetoric now has two meanings in the discipline of rhetoric. It is used to mean both a visual object or artifact and a perspective on the study of the visual data. In the first sense, visual rhetoric is as product individuals create as they use visual symbols for the purpose of communicating. In the second, it is a perspective scholars apply that focuses on the symbolic processes by which images perform communication” (143).
  5. “Not every visual object is visual rhetoric. What turns a visual object into a communicative artifact–a symbol that communicates and can be studied as rhetoric–is the presence of three characteristics… The images must be symbolic, involve human intervention, and be presented to an audience for the purpose of communicating with that audience” (144).
  6. “Visual rhetoric as a theoretical perspective–or what might be called a rhetorical perspective on visual imagery to distinguish it form the other sense of visual rhetoric–is a critical-analytical tool or a way of approaching and analyzing visual data that highlights the communicative dimensions of images” (145).
  7. “A rhetorical perspective on visual imagery is also characterized by specific attention to one or more of three aspects of visual images–their nature, function, and evaluation” (146).
  8. “Description of the nature of the visual rhetoric involves attention to two components–presented elements [design choices] and suggested elements [interpretations based on design choices]”  (146).
  9. Function, as it is used in this perspective, is not synonymous with purpose, which involves an effect that is intended or desired by the creator of the image” (146).
  10. “Whatever criteria are used, scholars who adopt a rhetorical perspective on images and choose to focus on evaluation are interested in improving the quality of the rhetorical environment by discriminating among images” (147).
  11. “Scholars who apply a rhetorical perspective to visual imagery deductively use visual imagery to illustrate, explain, or investigate rhetorical constructs and theories formulated from the study of discourse” (147).
  12. “A second approach to the application of a rhetorical perspective on visual imagery is the investigation of the features of visual images to generate rhetorical theory that takes into account the distinct characteristics of the visual symbol. Scholars who pursue this round begin with an exploration go visual images and operate inductively, generating rhetorical theories that are articulate about visual symbols” (149).
  13. “Visual rhetoric, as communication data to be studied and as an approach to those data, suggests the need to expand understanding of the multifarious ways in which symbols inform and define human experience and constitutes a call to expand rhetorical theory, making it more inclusive in its encompassing of visual as well as verbal symbols” (151).


  1. This chapter was published in 2005. Have visual rhetoric scholars engaged Foss’s call for uptake in the past decade? Do we now have a more inclusive collection of rhetorical theory that not only recognizes but prioritizes visual communication?
  2.  In WRTG 540, we’ve talked about the importance of text production, not just interpretation. That is, a visual rhetoric class cannot only showcase Foss’s understanding of the visual rhetoric perspective, but must also include the generation of communicative artifacts. How do other rhet/comp programs make peace with this balance–particularly programs that emphasize visual rhetorics?

Further Reading:

  1. Foss, S.K. (1994). A rhetorical schema for the evaluation of visual imagery. Communication Studies45, 213-224.
  2. Burke, K. (1966). Language as symbolic actionL Essays on life, literature, and method. Berkeley: University of California Press.