Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

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.

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

"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

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, , 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


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