Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Thoughts on Kress' "Gains and Losses"

One of the questions that I’m considering as a driving of my research is: How does Visual Rhetoric affect the process of composition, that is, the composing of both traditional and new media texts?
I want to think about Gunther Kress’s arguments about the epistemology of new media versus strictly speech/writing media as it relates to my research question.

In the article “Gains and Losses” (this was Paul’s reading, unfortunately I missed that day…) Kress asserts that there are crucial differences in the way that we process text versus the way that we process images. First, speech uses the materiality of sound and time; Writing uses sequence and authorship to make meaning while the “logic of space works differently … all elements are simultaneously present . . . Though the viewer traverses the image elements in time.” It is arrangement that gives meaning in spatial logic.

I’m really not quite sure about all of these distinctions. For instance, I’m not so sure about his analysis of the “book” as being quite so linear and I’m also not sure about his assertion that images are somehow more “present” and full of meaning any more than words are. Kress does not that we can not think about anything that there is not a “word” for, so I’m not quite sure how he can maintain the distinction between text and image as steadfastly as he does… But then again, who am I to disagree with Gunther Kress? I see how websites are multi-modal and have multiple points of entry, but I’m not so sure that the (current) way that I process books is so different from the way that I navigate a website. To me, once I have finished a book, it becomes a sort of blob of associated images in my brain and does not STAY the linear way in which it was presented. I also am a heavy user of indexes which provide multiple points of entry or re-entry to a text. But I totally agree that a multi-modal practice is necessary in the composition classroom in order to best equip our students to be “critically literate.”

So, back to my question: how does this affect the composition process? It seems that the tradition of grammar and organization can be understood in terms of spatial logic as well. To decide what is salient, whether the medium is a narrative or a painting is what is important and I think that essentially the same skills are invoked or can be invoked whether it is using a spatial logic or a sequence logic. We have to understand sequence in order to form our own sequence of associations, whether it is image or text. It is just another way of looking at the construction of meaning, which is one of our goals in composition. Does any of this make any sense? I’m not sure if I’m articulating very well what I’m trying to say!!!


Blogger eomeara said...

That's a tough question to tackle because I think there are very different processes going on in the brain when we look at text vs. images. Because we have words with meanings, even if there are various meanings, we still can make sense of a text. With an image, we can really only make a best guess as to what the composition means, and our own "baggage" influences that interpretation. As we've struggled with this question in class, I can only imagine how difficult it might be to try and explain this to freshman.

As for the linearity (or not)of texts, I think it depends on the text. Obviously, you get really jump into the middle of a novel you've never read and understand what has gone on. Even with some text books, there is a linearity that is implied by the progression of subject matter. You can't understand how plants survive, grow, etc. without first knowing how photosynthesis works. I agree that things like reference books aren't necessarily linear and can be entered at any point.

I'm not quite sure how "the tradition of grammar and organization can be understood in terms of spatial logic as well." Can you explain your idea more?

9:34 AM  
Blogger Jane Hemmerling said...

Yeah, for example: A salient feature in a graphic could be analalous to a "topic sentence" or the "framing," or the way that elements are arranged spatially could help students understand paragraph coherence or organization.
I'm still working on these connections, so hopefully i'll be able to articulate this well on Monday during my oral draft!

6:06 PM  

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