Thursday May 08.5. práctica 10
10 Susan H. Delagrange. – Wunderkammer, Cornell and the Visual Canon Arrangement ( A )
published at: http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/13.2/topoi/delagrange/index.html
(Trascripción incomplete e incorrecta de tan solo la parte textual, mediante el método de copy/paste.)
My work with digital media focuses on the complementary areas of embodied digital representation and the canon of arrangement refigured as techné, as a productive art of arranging (bodies of) evidence to discover ethical bases for action. For me, designing constructive digital media is a process of mapping and remapping our physical and conceptual worlds in order to determine their meaning.
I’m convinced of the importance of making as an epistemological act, the importance of visual and other kinds of evidence as necessary to a full and fruitful epistemic space, and the necessity of embodiment as an ethical condition of the making and the made. Given these essentials, it is important that those of us who work with new media in our teaching and research must represent ourselves and our work with new media in new media. This project is a step in that direction.
Productive arts, or techné (Aristotle included medicine, architecture, and rhetoric as examples), occupy a middle ground between theory and practice, one that incorporates both abstract and applied knowledge. Rhetoric as techné has four implications: first, it is heuristic, a process of making, and thinking, and re-making, through which meaning and knowledge are made; second, it is situated, specific to the embodied and material conditions of a particular time and place; third, it is mobile and strategic, adaptable to changing circumstances and new challenges; and fourth, it is ethical, founded in specific beliefs and values (which may or may not be those of the community at large).
The flexible, embodied concept of techné seems particularly appropriate to apply to interactive digital media, electronic spaces where we can see and hear, manipulate and learn from the material evidence that is at the heart of rhetorical inquiry.
So this project is about making—making media, making sense, making theory to explain and be explained by our making. To date our pedagogical performances have been defined primarily by how we behave in the classroom and by our textual performances in journals and books. Interactive digital media open up new opportunities to “perform” our pedagogy as a productive, rhetorically rich art, and to compose texts and make meaning that are not possible in traditional print.
It is the incommensurability of image and word, screen and page, that requires us to make a strong case for professional recognition of our performances in new media, performative making that answers Donna Haraway’s call not only “for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries” between human and digital, mind and body, reason and emotion, personal and political, but also “for respon-sibility in their construction” (1991, p. 150).
I focus in what follows on the canon of arrangement as a visual techné. Multimedia technologies—computers, digital cameras, audio recorders—can be used to design pedagogical performances which embody theory, which articulate visual arrangement as embodied practice. We can engage with these artifacts and the social technologies in which they are embedded through the practice of what we might call “critical wonder”: a process through which digital media designers can thoughtfully and imaginatively arrange evidence and articulate links in a critical practice of embodied discovery.
These “small pieces loosely joined” (Weinberger) become associative knowledge-building spaces whose history we can trace from 16th-century Wunderkammern, through 18th-century parlor practices, to Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp and interactive multimediated environments designed with Dreamweaver, iMovie, and Flash.
Much of my current digital media work with undergraduates at Ohio State involves using the techné of visual arrangement described here as a heuristic to shape nuanced proposals for the use of urban space. The “Praxis” section of this article describes that work in more detail. The intervening sections develop a rationale for this pedagogy.
In “Wunderkammer,” I argue that these 16th-century cabinets of wonder are models of visual provocation in which objects were manipulated and arranged in order to discover new meanings in their relationships. “Visual Analogy” expands the concept of arrangement as heuristic, because analogy is a trope that lends itself particularly well to the discovery of unexpected affinities in the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate objects (and ideas). “Joseph Cornell” explores the mobile assem-blages of 20th-century artist and bricoleur Joseph Cornell, whose refined use of repetition and small variation predicts the epistemic possibilities of 21st-century interactive digital media.
One way to read this project is lexia by lexia in the order in which they are arranged in the navigation bar. Yet its argument, that re-arrangement produces new meanings and new knowledge, suggests other paths. Choose.
Until the end of the 18th century, wonder was defined as “a form of learning—an inter-mediate, highly particular state akin to a sort of suspension of the mind between ignorance and enlightenment that marks the end of unknowing and the beginning of knowing” (Lugli, 1986, p. 123). Wunderkammern, enthusiastic collections of natural and man-made objects, are endlessly evocative of wonder. They speak to us of a sustained passion for imaginative discovery. They conjure up both broad obsession and meticulous attention to detail. In the 16th and 17th centuries, entire rooms and palaces were given over to the collecting, cataloguing, and display of natural, artificial, and scientific wonders. Exquisite examples were also constructed on a smaller scale. Self-contained cabinets of curiosities were no less com-pelling: small cupboards with doors and drawers and secret compartments filled with more diminutive delights. In fact, scale is one of the characteristics by which wonder is measured. Gigantic objects like skeletons of wooly mammoths and miniature accom-plishments like portraits of Napoleon painted on grains of rice are equally evocative of wonder.
Creative taxonomies were constructed from the arrangement and re-arrangement of the naturalia, artificialia, and scientifica collected in Wunderkammern; but it was the scientifica—scientific instruments—that were the most epistemically mobile. While associative interpretations of natural and man-made wonders led to significant intellectual projects like Linnaeus’s classification system, the scientific apparati housed in Wunder-kammern served not only as fascinations in themselves, but also as the means to examine and explore other objects.
Tools for measuring, weighing, balancing, lifting, cutting, crushing, and joining were all both display and device for experimentation, but of most interest here are optical devices such as telescopes, microscopes, and distorting lenses for magnifying, mirroring, multiplying, and otherwise manipulating the visibility and appearance of the objects on display. These devices served as the articulating link, the connection between macrocosm and microcosm, that constructed and transformed simple resemblance into generous understandings of the relationships of the cosmos.
Many of the early “revealing technologies” (Stafford, 2001, p. 1) available to scientist and dilettante alike afforded the kinds of manip-ulations and arrangements made possible today with digital media. Mirrors and water globes provided additional illumination in often dim interiors. Convex and concave mirrors, lenses, and entire catoptric chambers appeared in many Wunderkammern and served to “enlarge, diminish, and distort the world” (Terpak, 2001, p. 256). Magnifiers, spectacles, telescopes, and microscopes made previously imperceptible detail visible to the naked eye.
Multiplying lenses, although often marketed as amusements, had the effect of making many figures of one, or one of many. If, rather than thinking of such objects as toys, we instead considered their potential as tools of discovery, we might notice that they function to create visual synecdoches. What we see depends on what we think we are looking at. As Hankins and Silverman have said:
An instrument of natural magic may
appear as a philosophical instrument,
as an instrument of entertainment, or
as a practical “invention” in a new
guise. To understand actual scientific
practice, we have to understand
instruments, not only how they are
constructed, but also how they are
used and, more important, how they
(cited in Terpak, 2001, p. 184)
Like the scientifica in Wunderkammern, digital media are “practical inventions” that we may use to multiply, magnify, mirror and otherwise manipulate images and collections of images; and at the same time they are also “philo-sophical instruments” which give us insight into the objects and concepts we are exploring.
Many of these scientific devices were deliberately employed for their optical effects, yet there were other opportunities for unexpected discoveries while exploring a Wunderkammer. We should not overlook serendipitous visual juxtaposition and association that may take place through accidental reflection or refraction from the myriad surfaces of display cases, boxes, bottles, apothecaries, and the objects themselves. Indeed, the British painter Francis Bacon (1909-92) hoped to take advantage of this effect; he deliberately framed his thickly impastoed portraits behind glass in order that viewers might find their own faces super-imposed on his paintings, just as the creators of and visitors to Wunderkammern found themselves reflected in the displays. And today we too find our selves juxtaposed through reflection with the images on our computer screens.
The concept of the Wunderkammer and the accumulative, manipulative approach to learning it exemplifies makes it a productive thought engine, an object-to-think-with (Turkle, 1995, pp. 47-49) about how to incorporate both the visual nature and interactive qualities of digital media as technologies with which to frame a new rhetorical practice of inquiry and discovery.
Objects-to-think-with are tangible things or places that enable us to reflect concretely on abstract concepts and relationships. Jacques Lacan wrote that tying intricate knots in pieces of string led him to his speculations on the nature of the unconscious, a literal entanglement of theory and practice. In a similar fashion, many people find Freud’s references to dreams and slips of the tongue to be fruitful objects-to-think-with about how the mind works, despite the fact that Freud himself considered them relatively unimportant.
The Wunderkammer is an object-to-think-with that constructs an uncanny bridge between the mental and physical; it engenders wonder, a productive aporia between not-knowing and knowing. Interactive digital media-as-Wunderkammmer provide new objects-to-think-with about our slippery, provisional, fragmentary understanding of the world, a framework for exploration and discovery of how its seemingly disparate and disconnected pieces can be joined and made sensible, and thereby help us learn how to act.
Constructing digital Wunderkammer thus becomes an embodied pedagogical perfor-mance, a strong model for a postmodern understanding of multiple perspectives and subjectivities. Through multi-linear, multi-modal visual arrangement and manipulation, they shape a path to rhetorical action through a technology of wonder.
Theodor Nelson (1974) argued that we might consider multilinearity to be the general case for arrangement, and Cartesian linearity as a special instance of the general case; so too we might speculate that associative, analo-gical thinking demonstrated in the Wunder-kammer is the general case for human cognition, represented in the combinatorial practices of early modern thought, however incompletely understood at the time, and in the evolving contemporary models of the workings of the embodied brain.
And in the same way that Cartesian linearity is a special instance of multi-linearity, compu-tational models of cognition might also be only a special and limited instance of how the brain works to make meaning and to derive rhetor-ical bases for action and belief. Furthermore, while we may be attuned to thinking of association and analogy in verbal terms, they are also deeply and fundamentally visual.
The making of knowledge through arrangement and visual analogy in a Wunderkammer is a process of analogical manipulation that is deeply rhetorical. Each arrangement of objects creates new taxonomies—based on materials, or seasons, or humors, or the four elements, or even size—that carry with them unique ways of seeing and understanding the world. Designing these arrangements calls for visual tropes that connect in a material way habits of mind required to engage with the verbal rhetorical devices of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, anti-stasis, and catachresis (Burbules, 1998). Discovering the analogical properties of visual arrangements has the effect of “putting the visible into relationship with the invisible and manifesting the effect of that momentary unison” (Stafford, 1999, p. 23-24). And because it focuses on affinity rather than on difference, it is more likely to produce rhetorical effects that are collaborative and communal.
Metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche
Visual metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche are practices that reveal in various ways similarities-in-difference, the critical linkages that Stafford identifies as the foundation for ethical action. Metaphor draws upon the participatory aspect of analogy, that if two things are similar in some ways, then it is likely that they will be similar in others, an insight that is critical to the formation of community.
Metonymy and synecdoche are also participatory analogies, identifying affinity-through-juxtaposition and affinity as part of a whole. As with verbal tropes, the meaning of a visual analogy is not necessarily immediate or obvious, nor will it be identical for every viewer. The role of visual juxtaposition and manipulation is to provide an opportunity for the discovery of affinities, but chance, of course, favors the prepared; we must be looking in order to see.
Metaphor, metonymy and synecdoche rely on visual arrangement and rearrangement as means of discovery. Hyperbole, antistasis, and the “vicious” trope catachresis require active visual manipulation for their effects; they bring into play the proportional aspect of analogy, which relies on ratios or degrees of difference that, as Stafford notes, first require a recognition of resemblance.
Burbules argues that it is difficult to think of hyperbole as a trope on the Web because the entire Web is hyperbolic, always claiming a comprehensiveness and reach that it cannot fulfill. However hyperbole, through visual exaggeration or magnification that often focuses on scale and number, works to reveal subtleties that may have been overlooked, while at the same time its attempt to “fill our vision” throws what is not present there into even higher relief.
Antistasis, because it relies on difference in context to reveal both gaps and affinities, is both participatory and proportional. Moving among visual contexts and groupings, and manipulating scale and other effects within a single context, use both reflection and repetition to provoke insight.
Finally, catachresis, the (apparent) misuse of words and images, is perhaps the most fertile source of wonder of all, for it depends on the “Aha!” moment when two words, two objects that appear totally unrelated, absolutely irreconcilable with one another, are, through artful juxtaposition and visual distortion,
suddenly joined. Burbules (1998) says this is the essence of the hyperlink:
Any two things can be linked, even
a raven and a writing desk, and with
that link, a process of semic movement
begins instantaneously; the connec-
tion becomes part of a public space,
a community of discourse, which,
as others find and follow that link,
creates a new avenue of association
—beginning tropically or ironically,
perhaps, but gradually taking on
its own path of development and
normalization. (p. 116)
The physical mobility of objects in a Wunderkammer, and the cognitive mobility that the process of analogical visual troping implies, both foster associative habits of mind that can be equally well employed in the construction and manipulation of digital media designed as technologies of wonder and discovery.
Analogy, like consciousness, is an embodied practice. Stafford associates visual analogy with somatic cognition, but points out that this embodiment of thought is based upon a simultaneously very old and very current view of the thinking process as combinatorial. This connection links the two ages of wonder/ analogy: the time of the Wunderkammer and the time of the computer. During the period in between (from the Enlightenment to the recent present of the Modern), an abstract, compu-tational model of the brain pertained that is only now being challenged by biologists, neurologists, linguists, and other cognitive theorists.
The difference, says Stafford, is difference. Whereas the computational brain was purpor-ted to work through the identification of minute and perseverating difference, the combinatorial brain works through homologies and affinities, through subtle and supple similarities-in-difference, a feminist-inflected affirmation facilitated by “revealing technologies.”
Interestingly, when we look at the early use of such technologies as microscopes, magnifying globes, and refracting lenses, we do not find the hard distinctions made today between scientific and personal exploration, or between demonstrations mounted for instruction and for amusement. Learning and play did not seem such different tasks. Today the line has been drawn so brightly that many scholars in the humanities argue over the merits of popular culture and media studies as legit-imate fields of study, and look suspiciously on researchers who spend all their time “playing” with computers.
Computers, software, and the social technol-ogies in which they are embedded are contem-porary devices of wonder. Like scientifica in a Wunderkammer, they are both the means for examining, displaying, manipulating, and understanding other artifacts, and themselves objects of fascination. New media can be designed as technologies of wonder to create epistemically active digital Wunderkammern, spaces where we can accumulate available visual and verbal evidence, both directly pertinent and peripherally interesting, in digital format.
Their rhetorical effect will accrue from the rational use of historical and quantifiable information; the ethical use of an invitational structure that allows viewers to add their own interpretations, comments and stories; and the empathetic use of images, voices, and embodied narratives.
One of the enduring critiques of the use of images in academic discourse is that images are inherently manipulative, that like Rose’s landscapes or Berger’s nudes, they elicit both desire for the object and fear of contam-ination by it.
It seems to be the particularity of bodies of evidence that raises fears about affective and emotional argument. For example, logocentric proofs that dispassionately recite statistics on the effects of mercury in industrial run-off or that detail the numbers of single parents who are college students are considered to be acceptable forms of academic evidence; but graphic photographs of fish kills, or representative video clips of a student-mother’s day, are often thought cunning and inappropriate.
This logo-centric bias foregrounds the need for the intellectual work of rhetoric and composition to theorize pathos as partner of rather than subordinate to logos, re-embodying rhetoric and rhetorical theory as materially embodied and political work. Embodied visual argument thus becomes the critical link between emotional and rational appeals in a “tight braid of affect and judgment” (Worsham, 2002, p. 105) necessary to ethical action. Digital media offer a venue for just such combinatorial practices.
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