Revolution Lullabye

March 9, 2009

Wysocki, The Sticky Embrace of Beauty

Wysocki, Anne Frances. “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty: On Some Formal Problems in Teaching about the Visual Aspects of Texts.” In Writing New Media. Eds. Anne Frances Wysocki, et al. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2004. 147-198.

Wyscoki argues for an alternative understanding of beauty, aesthetic, and form that is grounded in the local and the particular rather than universal generalities and maxims that visual designers use for composing images and texts, universal rules that were developed first through Kant’s philosophy. Kant believed that the judgment of beauty is inherent and universal, happening when a person sees and appreciates its structure in terms of its formal relations. This allows the object (or body) deemed beautiful to be made abstract and distanced, a dangerous ethical situation. Wysocki, seeing this tension, argues that composition teachers, instead of just teaching students about design by instructing them in general, accepted rules for visual arrangment, should question the social and cultural practices that deem something efficient, pleasing, or visual, analyzing and creating to make what we take for granted unfamiliar to us so that we might appreciate and understand its particularities. In this way, she shows how form is rhetorical, informed and mediated by choices grounded in history and cultural context.

Quotable Quotes

How can we teach visual communication in such a way “That form does not override content, so that form is, in fact, understood as itself part of content, so that, finally, I better understand how to support students (and myself) be generously and questioningly recipricoal in our designings” (144)

“Form is itself always a set of structuring principles, with different forms growing out of and reproducing different but specific values” (159).

“If we believe that to be human is to be tied to place and time and messiness and complexity, then, by so abstracting us, this desire dehumanizes us and our work and how we see each other. This is dangerous.” (169)

“The web of social and cultural practices in which we move give us the words and concepts, as well as the tastes, for understanding what we sense” (171).

Notable Notes

Kant Critique of Judgment

The New Yorker Peek advertisement – woman’s body

design elements aren’t neutral – design values can’t just be looked at analytically….ours are grounded in industrializaiton, standardization, linear, order, efficiency (Nazi memos)

assignments ask students to learn design principles deductively by gathering designs. Also, redesigning web sites and textbooks

reciprocal relationship – we need “approaches that see form as this kind of recognition, tying us to others and to our times and places” (170)

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January 23, 2009

Ohmann, “Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language”

Ohmann, Richard. “Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 3rd ed. 310-318.

Ohmann’s essay argues against the writing handbook maxim (specifically Strunk & White) repeated in his title, claiming that the move to push students to replace abstract words and phrases with specific, often sensory details, limits their ability to tackle complex, abstract ideas, which require students to operate in generalities. Students may not easily or clearly write in abstractions, Ohmann writes, but steering them away from this difficult, intelligent work in the writing classroom deprives them of the chance to mature as analytical, abstract thinkers and writers. Ohmann uses examples from three popular current writing handbooks (all published in 1978), pointing out five common consequences of asking students to load their writing with specific adjectives and nouns: ahistoricism (emphasis on the present moment), empiricism (reliance on sensory information), fragmentation (ignorance of social and historical context or relationships), solipism (emphasis on the individual writer’s feelings and experiences), and denial of conflict (absence of questioning or things left up to the reader’s interpretation.)

Quotable Quotes

The maxim to use definite, specific, and concrete language will “push the student writer always to toward the langauge that most nearly reproduces the immediate experience and away from the language that might be used to understand it, transform it, and relate it to everything else” (317).

A student who takes the maxim to the extreme “will lose the thread of any analysis in a barrage of sensory impressions, irrelevant details, and personalized or random responses” (314).

“Abstract nouns refer to the world in a way quite different from concrete nouns” (315) They form chains of relationships in meaning

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