Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

Visual examples of rhetorical figures

If you are interested in rhetoric, hopefully you are already a reader of “It Figures,” where author Figaro provides examples of rhetorical figures in contemporary discourse. He also provides witty images to go along with his posts, some of which go beyond decoration by being excellent visual examples of the figures he is illustrating. In a recent post, he introduces a new figure—the “portmanym” or the “figure of conjoined names”—illustrated by a mashup of Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney (which, to my eye, looks strangely like John Kerry). You can see the post here—if you dare.

Nina Berman Documents Iraq Wounded

I recently discovered the photography of Nina Berman and have been completely bowled over by it. Her photos of soldiers wounded in Iraq are some of the most emotionally wrenching I've seen, masterful examples of the emotional impact photos can have, regardless of what you think of the current war. I have a feeling that her images will be long remembered for how powerfully they document the wounded (as opposed to deceased) casaulties of the war in Iraq. The series "purple hearts" and "marine wedding" are especially powerful.

Remote Sensing, Logos Images and the Irony of Evidence

My take on visual rhetoric is largely informed by my prior career with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. In the UT Visual Rhetoric Presentation I have a slide that depicts a photo from the Cuban Missile Crisis alongside a picture from Colin Powell's Presentation to the UN.

Lawnmower People, Part III

With the summer recreation season fast approaching I wanted to put the Lawnmower People to work this week with a public service announcement. If you golf, take stock: don't tip over your golf cart golf cart collision warning In what is perhaps more of a testament to my simplicity than anything else, I have to admit that these goofy lawnmower people crack me up. I would like to point out though that not all visual texts make arguments. I find when teaching Visual Rhetoric units that students initially want to see ALL images as arguments, whereas images like these really depend on the accompanying text to make any warning/argument clear, at least in the case of more complex warnings.

Representing Abortion

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision to uphold a ban on "partial birth" abortions, I thought it would be worth mentioning how visual rhetoric is employed in the abortion debate, particularly by pro-life partisans. Anyone who has spent much time on a large university campus has likely seen the images of protest I'm referring to in demonstrations once or twice a year, protests often coordinated by off-campus religious groups. In their most confrontational manifestations, the groups frequently employ large signs depicting very, very graphic images that they claim show aborted fetuses.

The necessity of teaching video composition

A few weeks ago I suggested that the seeming ineptness of many amateur videos indicates that most people are more skilled at textual production than at video production. William Saletan’s piece at Slate on video resumes got me thinking about this topic again. While the popularity of non-commercial videos on youtube argues that our culture is in many ways already video-literate, it is likely that the youtube community is self-selecting for video-savvy individuals. However, Heather Havrilesky’s recent review of Donald Trump’s Apprentice implies that there is a lack of awareness of a broader audience in that group, as well. Since we are near a point when video production will be as ubiquitous as text composition, it will soon become necessary for training everyone in video composition. If this is the case, I think it is likely that a huge part of the training in the rhetoric of video communication will be left to composition departments.

'Rhetorical Peaks' featured on local news

The CWRL’s game design / virtual communities workgroup was featured on the local news last night for their participation in STS’s Game Court Design Competition. You can view the video here. The workgroup’s white paper is also available if you would like to read more about their work.

Facebook response to the Virginia Tech tragedy

Following up on my post from yesterday, where I pointed out that Facebook originated as a way to display and comment on photos, Facebook has been a nexus of information about victims of the Virginia Tech shootings. The descriptions of 7 of the 15 victims listed on this page on NPR’s website contain references to Facebook memorial pages or have pictures that were acquired from Facebook accounts. Facebook users have also generated a number of online memorials. Consider these images that I grabbed from the “Longhorns Commemorating the Virginia Tech Shooting” (requires login) group’s page:

The origin of Facebook

Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion passes along this article from Fast Company profiling Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The ostensible point of the story is that Zuckerberg and co. have passed on some huge buyout opportunities—Yahoo apparently offered them $1 billion for the site—a move that is considered to be pretty risky. I, however, found the recitation of Facebook-founding lore to be the most interesting part of the piece.

Visual Rhetoric Writing Exercise

I recently incorporated the Garry Winogrand photo below into an in-class writing exercise. The exercise is essentially the same as one that I came up with when helping Brooks Landon teach his Prose Style course at the University of Iowa a few years ago. Keep reading to learn more about the writing exercise. dueling rhinos I bring a photo in to class, usually one that depicts something weird, something that probably has a story behind it but that doesn't make that story explicit. I project the photo and don't tell the students a word about it, not when it was taken, by whom, nothing. Then the students have to write about the photo. It's a creative assignment and in this case I was trying to get them to think about form. Specifically, after a workshop on the subject in the prior class, I was asking them to write "cumulative" sentences. Cumulative sentences, for those of you who aren't prose style junkies, are described in Francis Christensen's essay "A Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence." So, the photo was just a prompt to get the students writing in a new mode that we had been working on. The exercise went very well and my students generated some whacky, but stylistically adventurous, prose. If I get their permission, I will post some of their writings in the comments soon.

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