I think many of us would agree that we are living in an era of transition: generally, from one phase of modernity to another; more specifically, it is harder to say. Let's ask ourselves for a moment how this sense of change might guide the rhetorical study of visual media. Of the many possible answers to this question, there are two I want to put on the table.
The first consideration is that the study of visual media is likely to be occurring at all, or in a particular form, because our society now is moving beyond those media to other communication technologies. Here I am applying an observation from the history of communication: We know that the study of the forms and functions of oral speech emerged in antiquity just as literacy was being disseminated widely across and within the societies of the time. Although speech was featured, the formalization of speech became possible through writing. More important, perhaps, the knowledge produced was easily applied to both media. Indeed, there probably was a hidden bias toward what would work that way, and certainly the lore that proved most transmissible was that which was not limited to oral speech alone. Likewise, the next major transformation in communicative technologies--printing--was accompanied by the rise of the modern linguistic sciences. As writing became printing, language itself became an object of study. As printing became industrialized, the sciences of philology, hermeneutics, and linguistics flowered. In the twentieth century, philosophy and then all the human sciences took the linguistic turn, and natural languages became less interesting while meaning became the object of study (as in The Meanin...
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...g--and that would have to be a culture sustaining democratic polity. In any case, allegory seems to be a preferred mode of coding when living amidst a cultural sea change.
To summarize this last point: If we are to understand visual rhetorics, we need to situate them in respect to processes of cultural transformation, and consider how they operate as part of larger patterns for coding reality that are not themselves inherently visual (or verbal), and recognize how they may reflect fundamental changes in consciousness (that are more than a shift from verbal to visual cognitive operations, etc.). As I ask each of these questions, I get the same answer: visual communication is becoming increasingly allegorical. This answer may also reflect the bias I suggested in the first part of this paper, but we shouldn't assume that is the most interesting part of the story.
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