Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

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.

Lawnmower People Part II

I may as well kick off the lawnmower people with a double-shot, since I intend to add these images periodically when the whim strikes. A second genre of lawnmower people signs depicts these generic beings not in the agonies of bodily harm, but doing things that are forbidden. No public urination Read more about Lawnmower People Part II

"Lawnmower People" Part I

I am a big, big fan of the little warning signs that depict stick figures in various injurious situations. I call them "lawnmower people" because I first noticed them as warning labels on mowers when I was a kid, where they inevitably had their toes and fingers whacked and stones thrown in their eyes all at the same time. As a public service, probably my greatest to date, I will occasionally post images of lawnmower people that I find amusing. Enjoy. Danger: rotating driveshafts Read more about "Lawnmower People" Part I

UT Visual Rhetoric Presentation

Since fall of '06 I have been giving a PowerPoint visual rhetoric presentation in UT's RHE 306 and RHE 309K classes. The presentations have been pretty successful and seem well received by students and instructors alike. I have had some requests to distribute the presentation but have been holding off for a couple of reasons: 1) the presentation is composed almost entirely of coprighted material and unlimited distribution would almost certainly violate the fair use terms under which I am currently using the materials; 2) the images I included are often controversial, for a variety of reasons, and I am hesitant to distribute the presentation to instructors without backgrounds in visual rhetoric or who might not be attuned to some of the delicate classroom issues some of the images present.

Kurt Vonnegut, author of "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Breakfast of Champions" and a hand-drawn Asshole, Dies

With Vonnegut's recent passing it seems worth noting that his books almost always featured a simple hand-drawn image at least once per novel. I'm not exactly sure how to describe the rhetorical effect of these drawings, but someone with more time could do a fascinating study of how these drawings operate within Vonnegut's texts. I am happy to note that at Vonnegut's official website, http://www.vonnegut.com/ , the favicon is a replication of the asshole drawing from, if my memory serves, "Breakfast of Champions". Read more about Kurt Vonnegut, author of "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Breakfast of Champions" and a hand-drawn Asshole, Dies

Comics Curmudgeon

For a light-hearted example of someone who does some amazing "rhetorical analyses" of visual texts, check out the Comics Curmudgeon blog at http://joshreads.com. Josh routinely uses visual cues in the crappy comics, the ones you read but aren't sure why and never make you laugh, to transform the comics into much more entertaining texts than their original authors were capable of achieving. Read more about Comics Curmudgeon

NASA in Second Life

According to this story from Wired, NASA has developed a workgroup devoted to providing open source solutions to the organization’s programming needs. The project is called “CosmosCode,” and what I find most interesting about it is that the meetings that led to its creation were held in Second Life. Also interesting is the fact that the group meeting on NASA’s island were not all experts, but often featured anything from doctoral students and retirees.

Evidence of corruption: Distorted maps

At the beginning of the month, the Daily Mail published a series of distorted maps of the world, using the map area to track some other variable, like HIV prevalence, alcohol consumption, and military spending.

Project Hamad has a posse

The people at Project Hamad (who I mentioned a few days ago in this post) have a poster campaign with a stylized image of Mr. Hammad reminiscent of the “André the Giant has a Posse” stencils.

Read more about Project Hamad has a posse

YouTube fights the law: Who will win?

Andrew K. Woods has a short piece on Slate titled “The YouTube Defense: Human Rights Go Viral” where he argues that judicial decisions, from Brown v. Board of Education to recent rulings on Guantanamo detainees, have always used public opinion as a bellwether, despite claims of strict fidelity to established law. Realizing this, lawyers for one Gitmo inmate, Adel Hamad—who Mr. Woods identifies as a Sudanese school teacher—have posted a video on YouTube outlining the paucity of evidence supporting to his detainment. After 70,000 viewings, the U.S. government has placed Hamad on a list of detainees to be released.

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