Review of Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World by Susan H. Delegrange 2011; Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press
Elizabeth Edwards, Washington State University
Enculturation: http://www.enculturation.net/technologies-of-wonder (Published: September 2, 2015)
Susan H. Delagrange’s hybrid text, Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World, rests on two guiding principles: first, form and content are inextricably linked; second, traditional forms, such as print text, limit the creative options necessary to take full advantage of the content-form relationship. Delagrange weaves together theories of classical rhetoric with feminist ideologies of geography, body, and gendered rhetoric in order to critique the linearity of Cartesian thought. Delagrange does this while making equal use of both visual images and text, thus embodying her belief that traditional forms limit the potential of various modalities of composition. Delagrange's seamless attempt to merge content and form in her hybrid text demonstrates to scholars and educators the potential of utilizing new media and visual rhetoric. Her goal is not to undermine the value of traditional print text in favor of new media, but to argue “that they afford new perspectives and processes that are unavailable in more traditional forms” (Delagrange xi).
Delagrange’s alignment of content and form is the primary strength of her work. Each chapter begins with highlighting key terms, arguments, and examples; visual details, descriptions, and links support her main claims. Acknowledging concerns with usability of new media texts and the exclusion of audiences, she chooses open-access, user-friendly Adobe PDF formatting, with simple videos and image collages. This deliberate choice showcases her work to as wide an audience as possible. The strategic placement of image next to text also reinforces her belief that image and text should work in tandem to create meaning, rather than competing for space. While not all images or videos add substantial meaning to the claim of the section or chapter, all images support her goal of allowing “the reader to determine the significance of the juxtaposition” (Delagrange xi).
The opening anecdote in Delagrange’s preface articulates academe’s ever-present preference for print, and demonstrates the professional roadblocks preventing the acceptance of new media in the university. She draws specifically from Cheryl Ball’s listserv conversation in 2003, which chronicles Ball’s desire to build an online resume website blending academic and social genres. Ball's attempt to alter tradition as a woman in the university, as well as her peers’ concern that such alterations might threaten standards for sustainability and usability, provide a relevant backdrop for investigating assumptions about text rooted in issues of education, gender, and the history of rhetoric.
Academe’s resistance to adopt texts other than print divulges a plethora of historical assumptions originating with adherence to the scientific method. In the first chapter, “Reading Pictures, Seeing Words,” Delagrange critiques the scientific method’s preference for print as upholding objective, distant, and fixed learning while creating a dichotomy that views images as suspect and subjective. Instead, Delagrange proposes the image of a tangle to represent the complexity of medias and the thinking they promote. Feminist theories of space, geography, and body, as well as classical rhetoric’s techne or “productive knowledge” (Delagrange, 34), she argues, will help the university accept and incorporate new media on its own terms, rather than becoming absorbed by print text. Although she recognizes the pattern of media trends assimilating into culture over time and without reaching its transformative potential (Dennis Baron,), she believes that new media possess cultural power and salience. The cultural power and salience of new media can occur through remediation (Bolter and Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media), which by definition, “influence[s] retrospectively the forms [it] superseded, and finally settle[s] into an uneasy oscillation between where [it] came and where [it] is becoming” (7).
In order for new media to avoid becoming absorbed and invisible, it must be contextualized in terms of its history within print culture and classical rhetoric. Although Cartesian thought promotes invisibility through an objective and distant relationship to inquiry, this ideology is antithetical to classical rhetoric’s preference for visible arrangement, knowledge, and learning. The contents of chapters two and three (“(Re)Vision and Remediation” and “Embodiment by Design,” respectively) provide the foundational underpinnings of her argument as to how to approach incorporation of new media. She argues that new media is relevant when evaluated in terms of techne and visibility of bodies as forms. The purpose of new media meshes with techne because both are “a ‘making,’ a productive oscillation between knowledge in the head and knowledge in the hand” (35). The attention to form required for new media production also meshes with bodies since bodies make form visible. Consequently, successful use of techne requires use of all available means of persuasion (Aristotle), including emotional appeals such as pathos, which Delagrange copiously cites as feminine and less rationale.
Delangrange’s analysis of medical drawings created during the Cartesian period demonstrates the preference for both examining male bodies and upholding male patterns of thought. She discovers that the male body most represented strength and virility, and the male mind best promoted distance and objectivity (73-75). Although the movement of bodies is central to delivery in classical rhetoric, Cartesian philosophy erases this history to promote disembodiment. It also erases various forms of argument, which differ from logical and rational appeals. Although abolitionist rhetoric, the women’s rights movement, and particularly the rhetoric of the Grimke sisters worked to bring less rationale “feminine” appeals to the forefront (Delagrange, 81), alternative uses of form and delivery collapse next to the masculine prototype.
Technological advances have also collapsed under the masculine prototype by promoting disembodiment and invisibility of form, which only reinforces hierarchies for different rhetorical strategies as well as gender and cultural difference. For example, Delagrange chides Robin Williams’ CRAP (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity) principles of technical communication for making design oversimplified and catering to the linear print standard devoid of thoughtful form. She also mentions military data representation and university department websites as diminishing bodies and creative forms, which would heighten rather than minimize meaning. The historical preference for male argument and knowledge production is counter-intuitive to the aims of techne in classical rhetoric; the original meaning highlights the making of knowledge, emphasizing invention and discovery rather than distant observation.
Delagrange’s description of the Wunderkammer (“curiosity cabinet”) in the fourth chapter, “Visual Arrangement as Inquiry,” represents her stance that invention and discovery should be intertwined, not linear. The Wunderkammer, a popular visual encyclopedia prior to the Enlightenment, served two purposes. The first reinforced privilege through acquisition of objects, and the second supported the building of comprehensive knowledge to be shared and displayed. Delagrange adopts the Wunderkammer as her metaphor for new media, since form and content align, and associative learning precedes analytical learning (121-122). According to Delagrange, the Wunderkammer also presents a physical manifestation of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic nomadic space in that “it is the journey, the link, the line of flight that determines the meaning of the places it links together” (142), with hyperlinks, web text, and other new media easily supplanting “place.” Delagrange touts computers as the modern Wunderkammer, but worries that cultural assimilation has controlled the connection of form and content to the point that the relationship is invisible. In conjunction with the caveat of cultural assimilation, Delagrange notes the potential of the Wunderkammer to reify masculine fetishism and desire for control. Overall, she endorses this interactive encyclopedia as a visual representation of the potential of new media.
The fifth and last chapter, “Media Machines, Devices of Wonder” illustrates how the concepts of wonder and visual arrangement can influence pedagogical practice. Delagrange finds “digital arrangement” (168) assignments useful in her classroom because they encourage her students to merge civic engagement with personal interest. Her specific assignment asks students to photograph a local place, research its history, and, in a later assignment, analyze the current use of that place (168-170). Delagrange’s assignment bolsters her intent to demonstrate the alignment of content and form, and solidly illustrates the aforementioned theories with pedagogical examples. However, the placement of and attention to this example (along with other briefer examples throughout) divulges that pedagogy is not the primary emphasis of her text. Nonetheless, Delagrange’s strong application of theory in this text, as well as the creativity of her digital arrangement assignment, invites various pedagogical applications for a wide variety of classroom environments.
Delagrange’s hybrid text is a positive contribution to scholarship in new media studies, visual rhetoric, and multimodal composition because it reminds humanities scholars and educators that aligning form and content is the key component to successful development of texts alternative to print. Her work is also a positive contribution to the discipline of rhetoric as it revives and reintroduces core rhetorical principles previously applied to speech and applies them to multimodal and new media compositions. Aligned with Bolter and Grusin’s claims about the purpose of the remediation of media, to "continually commen[t] on, reproduce[e], and replac[e] each other" (55), Delagrange’s work suggests that the process of filtering content through various means is not new. What are new, though, are the forms, bodies, and spaces that have the potential to make meaning and knowledge.
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2000. Print.
Delagrange, Susan H. Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World. Logan: Utah State University Press/Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2011. Print.