Delagrange, “Visual Arrangement as Inquiry”

Delagrange, Susan H. “Chapter 4: Visual Arrangement as Inquiry.” Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press: Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2011.(39 pages)

Delagrange reconsiders the role of arrangement for hypermedia texts in  hyperspace, taking particular note of (hyper)linking as a “visual and meaningful embodiment of the canon of arrangement online” (107).

She begins by offering a historical foundation that has supported our understanding of arrangement; namely, she notes how arrangement has contained the need and capacity for (1) “formulaic organizational strategies” and (2) “more mobile, imaginative uses of arrangement” (107). However, the former function has overshadowed the latter, which has also obscured arrangement’s inventional qualities as well as favored the “abstract over the material” (107). She also notes that instruction in hypermedia design is typically geared to make sure the reader is never confused, distracted, or lost. As she writes, such a purpose in design constructs a particular kind of audience, “an audience that needs to be told what to do, and wants to do it as quickly as possible; an audience that has severely limited attention span, and is confused and upset by ambiguity and complexity” (108).

In response, she offers the metaphor of Wunderkammer as a guiding principle of arrangement in hypermedia: “as both a material catalogue of knowledge and a process of inquiry into the working of the known and imagined world, a Wunderkammer uses the arrangement and re-arrangement of objects to create new knowledge” (107). Wunderkammer provides a hypermediated thinking space “that would allow us and our reader to explore, to move things about, to seek out curious and unexpected connections, and to defer closure and certainty while we consider the possibilities for rhetorical action that different arrangements of our evidence might suggest” (108).

Visualizing the Canon

Here, Delagrange aligns arrangement closely to Kairos & Techné: “if arrangement is the process of manipulating all of the available evidence to determine which connections, which associations, which links will be most effective for the specific material context of and embodied audience for a discourse, then Kairos, Greek god of the ‘fleeting moment,’ is a visual expression of that process…This image personifies the weighing and balancing of analogical relations from multiple perspectives in the spirit of inquiry and wonder that constitute rhetorical arrangement” (110-1). In other words, kairos provides a way to see the purposeful construction of arrangements through the lens of multiple perspectives, and such arrangements provide occasions of kairos.

Techné “is artistic knowledge, formed in a relational oscillation between thinking and doing that becomes more intuitive with experience. The review, techné is heuristic, a process of making, and thinking, and re-making, through which meaning and knowledge are made; it is situated, specific to the embodied and material conditions of a particular time and place; it is mobile and strategic, adaptable to changing circumstances and new challenges; and it is ethical, founded in specific beliefs and values” (111).

A Feminist Re-Arrangement

While conceding that the characteristics of postmodernism can reinforce “participation in multiple discourses, the social construction of knowledge, the indeterminacy of context and meaning, the nature of multiple yet partial perspectives”, she also notes that the “contingent nature of perspective, sometimes seems to argue that all perspectives are equal, or worse, that there is no place to stand from to act” (113). Referencing Johnson-Eilola: “if there is no ground zero…on which to draw a unified (true) map, how can people orient themselves, how can they move with confidence form one place to another on a map?…” (15 qtd. in Delagrange 113).

As an alternative, Delagrange situates her theory of arrangement in postmodern feminism: “an embodied practice that grounds its perspectives in the material, social world” (114). Such a perspective on postmodernism takes as its goal a more just, egalitarian world while also recognizing that there are material consequences of social policy and action. It also recognizes that “perspectives are always partial” (114). Interactive digital media demonstrates many of the possibilities presented by postmodern feminism: “decentering authority, acknowledging partial perspective of social constructed knowledge, and embracing multiplicity” (114). Delagrange specifically alludes to Haraway’s concept of situated knowledge: “only partial perspectives promises objective vision” (Haraway 190 qtd. in Delagrange 115). Constructive hypermedia  provides a space in which “multiple views and relationships can be arranged and re-arranged in an ongoing conversation” in lieu of any possibility to ever produce an “all-inclusive, coherent account” (115).

Wunderkammer as Thought Engine

A predecessor to the museum, the Wunderkammer, or chamber of marvels or curiosity cabinets, is a means of displaying collected objects, arranging and re-arranging as new objects are collected. The collection, arrangement, and display of these objects represent a quest for comprehensive knowledge:  “a collector’s attempts to come to an understanding of what these things said about the nature of the world were reflected in the many ways in which they catalogued and arranged their collections of display” (121). Such recursive re-arrangement—creating new combinations, new juxtapositions, and new associations in the process—becomes a process of thinking through objects, an object-to-think-with: “how to make use of both the visual nature and hyperlinked capacity of interactive digital media as technologies with which to frame a new rhetorical practice of inquiry and discovery” (121) or “an  uncanny bridge—a material link—between the mental and the physical” (122).

Visual Analogy

Analogy has two (complementary) meanings: Proportionality & participation. Proportionality ”refers to the rations between two things, the identification of difference that can only become from a prior understanding of resemblance.” Participation refers to “the inferential understanding that if two things are similar in one way, it is likely that they will be similar in others” (125).

Interactivity & the Line

Interactivity is defined as “the means to manipulate and arrange evidence to discover meaningful associations and analogies, and the ability to navigate freely among the nodes and links of that evidence to build multilinear, multipersepctival understanding and knowledge” (126). In this construction, the viewer determines the path she will take, and “who thereby participates in authoring the text that she experiences” (127).

Escaping Printland

Here, Delagrange confronts the pervasive perspective that hypermedia should always be clean, clear, and quick. Such a perspective is born from book-centered epistemologies that—through the pervasiveness of books—becomes naturalized to the point of invisibility: “we do not have to think about how to navigate a book, how to find our way around it in a productive way” (131). Thus, the invisibility of book design is seen as a motive to also have hypermedia design similarly invisible. However, the emergence of new media—and our encounter of this media—has created “a heightened awareness of the constructedness of cultural artifacts, including the alphabet and the book, that calls into question the putative ‘naturalness’ and transparency claimed for print” (132). IN other words, the salience of the invisible design is breaking down as users are experiencing different means of interface.

Still, as Delagrange writes, “try as they [new media] might to escape the gravitational pull of their predecessors, new media often fall back into a nearby orbit. Revolutionary claims have been made for other new technologies that have eventually re-inscribed culturally constructed norms” (133).

Pause…<click>…Pause

“George Landow (1994), an early advocate for hypertextual  scholarship, claimed that rhetoric of departure and arrival ‘stimulate and encourage habits of relational thinking in the reader’” (137). In light of this, Delagrange again refers to Wunderkammer as a model: “it is not only the ability to create multiple paths and perspectives among objects that makes Wunderkammern such productive sites for research and discovery: it is also the simultaneous ambiguity and multiplicity of visual analogy that allows—requires the time and effort to connect, to discover relationships and resemblances and make sense of their meaning” (137-8).

Difficulty, Aporia, & Cognitive Engagement

Here, Delagrange outlines four recursive and repeatable activities for designers of constructive hypermedia:

  • Collecting: “should not be a solitary search, but one enhanced by collaboration and connection with colleagues and students” (140).
  • Arranging: “entails manipulating the pieces and places in the collection, arranging and re-arranging them to bring to light multiple possibilities for connections, associations, and similarities-in-difference” (141).
  • Reflecting: “an opportunity to step back, look at the various structures and arrangement as they have been devised, and ask critical questions that will help determine what positions or actions we might best take, all the while allowing the aporia, or state of unknowing, to hold the alternatives in producing tensions” (143).
  • Display: “the public scholarly performance of the collecting, arranging, and reflecting process” (144).
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