To come back to:

Are gimmicks and visual rhetoric the same thing?

if you define rhetoric as persuasion, false, showy, artificial... "Rhetoric, that powerful instrument of error and deceit" John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

I'm just starting to read around rhetoric (and its application to design research) - seems to be (appropriately) a huge range of arguments around the value of rhetoric as a field of study at all, let alone for design. The value of rhetoric for design is that studies persuasion - how do you communicate a message in the most convincing manner. This the fundamental purpose of visual communications.
The central concern of rhetoric has always been method and manner: how to discover the most effective way to express a thought in a given situation, and then how to alter its expression to suit different situations.


Ben!! said…
hi Zoe,

Yes but only if you define rhetoric that way! how's it going?

It's funny you posted this today because i was thinking abt this question again last night while i read a novel called `the book thief', by Marcus Zusak. While not brilliant, it is impressive and interesting and it was a bestseller in America. Unfortunately it's sprinkled with little cartoons and jottings by the author, who can't seem to draw to save his life. It exemplifies the gimmick approach that you're looking at and it's so frustrating and detracts from the book for two reasons:

1) If the author is sloppy and derivative as a sketch-artist, the reader will wonder if the same sloppiness underlies the writing as well.

2) It's irritating because it breaks the flow of the text and the reader's concentration. You're reading a story abt the depredations of the SS and then you turn the page and find half-baked toons that look like something off a toilet wall.

So, it occurred to me that often when graphic devices like these are used, they often take this form: cartoons, sketches, studies, musings, doodlings, little in-jokes. You can be charitable and suppose the writer was holding back their true skills and doing this for effect - to help craft a mood of transitory, hasty inspiration or a child's perspective, or something else that adds to a particular story - or be mean and say they're not much good at drawing. Is that too mean? But if so, why does this naff style proliferate? And why don't real artists's write books?

Have you read the book thief? If not it might be worthwhile having a look at it. It's certainly one to add to the list of books that are following the trend. There are various other graphic devices - such as the way the chapter headings are accompanied by a summary of what's in the chapter, which i reckon is quite a nice effect, because it gives you the sense of Death (the narrator) as a timeless observer who isn't greatly concerned abt building suspense, more by making catalogues.

Also, On Writing by Stephen King (which i think you read?) has some good stuff on this general topic from a writer's perspective.
Zoe said…
Hey Ben,
Thanks for recommendation, will pick up a copy (to add to the ridiculous pile growing next to my bed, threatening to lurch over and suffocate me while I sleep). I haven't seen the illustrations yet, but I'm thinking they might be something along the lines of what Kurt Vonnegut uses (notably in Breakfast of Champions). The 'style' of these cartoons is perhaps deliberately 'rough' (or are they just a bad drawer?) in the same way that Sebald's photographs are purposely of what I would call poor graphic quality. They are not included for their aesthetic value. When they work as visual literary devices ... don't ask me how you assess this yet, I'm working on it ... they are valuable because they offer a different kind of message. Will have to have a look at this book and see if I can contribute something more meaningful than this generalised statement.

Stephen King's On Writing is one of the books threatening to kill me in my sleep. Appropriate, for Steven King. I'll look it out.

Thanks for your always thoughtful comments. z

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