ENGL706 – Annotated Bibliography #3

Rowsell, J. (2014). “The mood is in the shot”: the challenge of moving-image texts to multimodality. Text & Talk, 34(3), 307-324.

In this article, Jennifer Roswell performs a case study of two filmmakers with vastly different techniques to “challenge perceptions of what modes can do and what they can evoke” (pg. 307). In her theoretical framework, she combines Kress’ discussion of ‘“epistemological commitments’ designed by sign-makers to craft image representations” (pg 309), and Merleau-Ponty’s work on “embodiment of the world and the co-existence of space and things” (pg 310). In short, Kress focuses on the semiotics of filmmaking, while Merleau-Ponty argues that meaning is influenced by the history of visuals, from which we cannot sever ourselves. The objects of study are Robin Benger and Tobias Wiegand: Benger is a documentary filmmaker who takes advantage of available modes in order to tell a story; Wiegand produces animated films, in which the story is pre-planned and modes are afforded by the technical process of creation. In both instances, the filmmakers rely heavily on modes to invoke emotion, however their approaches are quite different.

Roswell determines that three themes emerge from her interviews: “the role of the producer as rhetor; how producers materialize ideas, emotions, and values in a text; and modal affordances with their potential to emotionalize scenes in moving-image texts” (pg. 316). Benger views his role as a rhetor as a way to “nudge the world in a better direction” (pg. 316); Wiegand, on the other hand, believes his role is to explore “the ubiquitous use, enjoyment, understanding of immersive worlds” (pg. 317). In terms of how the filmmakers produce emotions in their texts, Benger takes advantage of the optics available to emphasize a mood, while Wiegand develops mood from a more general starting point, creating it through specifically crafted details added in the filmmaking process. Finally, Benger takes advantage of available modes to “create a cinematographica rhythm” (pg. 320), while Wiegand emotionalizes scenes through the process of creating and then combining various modes.

Roswell introduces ”an ontology for moving-image production” (pg. 322). It begins with Merleau-Ponty’s idea of “senses, felt connections, perceived worlds.” These senses are materialized through “modes, affordances, communication, representation” as discussed by Kress. Next, the sign-maker, based on “habitus, interest, audience,” makes decisions that inform their modal choices. Finally, the audience views the text, and meaning is created by a communication between “habitus, interest, felt connections.” Roswell concludes that cases like Benger and Wiegand “call into question [her] efforts at a logic of production” (pg. 323). While there is a basic ontology to filmmaking, there is a “profound, often ephemeral role” (pg 323) in the modal decisions of signmakers and the interpretation of audiences. Therefore, Roswell concludes that she is inconclusive: she wonders if it is even possible to create a grammar for the perceptual.

Roswell’s work is very useful in that it demonstrates the challenges that rhetors face when creating multimodal texts. Each text-creator is faced with a different set of modal affordances, and it is up to him/her to determine the best use of those modes based on the audience. This is relevant to my discussion on response GIFs because in order to understand why a certain GIF was used by an online commenter, we need to understand these factors at play. The commenter has seemingly endless possibilities. A GIF can be created out of the millions of film/videos that have been made, however the GIF-maker is limited to what is available online, and then further limited by the software available. And, for a less technically-inclined commenter without software access/knowledge, he/she is further limited to GIFs that have already been created by others. Even then, there is a further limitation on how much time a commenter has to make and/or browse GIFs, because there is a temporal element to online comment sections, where the most relevant commenters are also the quickest. Considering all of these modal affordances and restrictions is imperative to understanding the rhetorical workings at hand for reaction GIFs. Roswell’s conclusion of inconclusiveness is unsatisfying, but an important limitation to keep in mind when discussing multimodal texts.


ENGL 706 – Annotated Bibliography #2

Kress, G. (2004). Reading images: Multimodality, representation and new media. Information Design Journal, 12(2), 110-119.

In this article, Gunther Kress examines the shift that has taken place from the “mode of writing and medium of a book/page” to the “mode of image and medium of screen” (p. 110). He argues that the mode of how meanings are expressed has rhetorical consequences. He first argues that the material of the material of the mode has consequences for meaning. Nonverbal communication has shifted from words to images. He argues that words can be limiting: “only that for which there is a word can be brought into communication” (p. 112). The spatial relations between words written on a page and images shown on screen have important consequences. Readers only have one point of entry to a text; in order for it to be understood, it must be read chronologically and in order, as it is written out on the page. On a website, however, there are multiple points of entry, which allows the reader to design the text for themselves. As Kress states, “the reader’s interest determines where he or she wishes to enter the page” (p. 114). Also related to the mode of display, he argues that on screen, text is “subordinated to the logic of the image” (p. 116) and vice versa. He connects the rhetorical difference between the mode of writing versus the mode of the image to design. He states that because of the “multimodal landscape of communication” (p. 116), design is a central issue to communicating meaning. Design requires a person to consider environmental, audience, resources, constraints, and interests in shaping the argument. Because the page, with its central point of entry, is no longer the main mode of communication, communication has become fragmented and therefore, he argues, “rhetoric has become a major issue for design” (p. 119).

Kress’ discussion of multimodality and design choices is central to my research on GIFs in online discourse on news sites. He notes in this article that there is a shift where images are used with more frequency, “even in situations where previously writing would have been used” (112). This the question that I am interested in exploring—in what scenarios do commenters make the rhetorical decision to use a GIF in lieu of text? And why do news commenting sections make the decision to limit images in online conversation? The mode of the screen allows for many means of communication, yet major media sites such as New York Times and Washington Post make the rhetorical decision to only allow for text in their discussions. A small handful, like Gawker, allow a variety of means, such as links, images, and moving images. I think that GIFs are an interesting case because users have control over their “point of entry,” to borrow Kress’ terminology. The moving image is a short, precisely selected clip, often from a video, stripped of sound. The movement is not implied, but explicit. Take the below example of a popular Beyoncé reaction GIF versus a screenshot. Both have a humorous tone. Both carry the same cultural connotations that Beyoncé carries as a pop culture icon. The moving GIF is clear—she is saying “no,” and there is little wiggle room to interpret. The static image, on the other hand, is not so clear. Is she wagging her finger? Is she trying to catch someone’s attention? Is she saying “hold on a sec?” This difference is why GIFs are important to consider and can be very useful to contributing to discourse.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.26.36 PMnono

Source: http://www.reactiongifs.com/beyonce-2/