Stroupe, Craig. "The Rhetoric of Irritation: Inappropriateness as Visual/Literate Practice." Defining Visual Rhetorics. Ed. Marguerite Helmers and Charles Hill. Mahwah, NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, 2004. 243-258.
In "The Rhetoric of Irritation: Inappropriateness as Visual/Literate Practice," Craig Stroupe provides insightful and fruitful discussion on the constraints placed on the term “visual rhetoric” and what those constraints produce and disallow, how image and text operate together to a point of complex irritation to create meaning, and the role of the user-as-audience in creating cultural meaning. That is quite a lot of ground to cover in one short work.
Stroupe begins his essay by posing questions for scholars and teachers as to why they generally handle “phrases like ‘media literacy’ and ‘visual rhetoric’ as if they are stable conditions (243).” The attempt to classify visual media as new forms of literacy and images as new forms of rhetoric is problematic in that classification simply reimagines new investigations using old methods and terminology yielding confusing outcomes. This gives researchers and teachers “a conveniently slippery political reversibility (243).” Stroupe’s aim is to achieve “instrumental” and “constitutive” elements of communicating with and critically understanding the nature of visual rhetoric “to produce and reproduce culture and identity (243).” He brings into this discussion the historical divides between traditional rhetoric and visual design, between print culture and digital culture, and between distinct authors and users with agency. Academia creates artificial resolutions around new media literacies that are, in fact, constantly transforming and transformative. Our use of words form assumptions that disrupt critical discourse and therefore also disrupt applicable pedagogy. The same is true with our use of images; treating all visual media as being lumped together and analyzed/taught as one form or genre will produce dissonant results.
His primary point comes in the essential discovery of “irritations” within 1) the visual/verbal hybrids and 2) in the audience/user’s interpretation and use of these constructed meanings. For Stope, “this sense of disruption calls attention to interpretive dilemmas and cultural instabilities that exist socially beneath the veneer of appropriate assumptions (that is, ideology) at any moment in history, and which these dialogues echo and enact explicitly in the visual/verbal texts (245).” Stroupe gives us two examples (or “discursive models”) in Ulmer’s “Metaphoric Rocks” and Mahlberg’s photomontage “Oswald in a Jam”. He recalls Bakhtin’s notion of a language being much more than a simple system of representation - it is what happens in the surprises, the inappropriate, the haphazard juxtapositions where real growth occurs: “Conventional, formal word/image relations are disrupted by the unconventional, cultural play of voices and purposes (246).” As Stroupe reminds us, even rhetorical irritation is still bound by the conventions and boarders of language that ensconce it, but such an “appropriate inappropriateness of juxtaposition” carries with it not only social and cultural politics but also progression (252). After arguing to bring the literate and the rhetorical back to bare on the image, Stroupe concludes, “Who’s to say? The visual is always rhetorical when rhetoricians are doing the looking, and especially when they are talking about the visual with the taste of rhetoric in their mouths (256).” When we change the way something is presented, we change the message as well as the culture informing/being informed by the message. Stroupe argues for looking deeper at production and interpretation as uneasy terms – a place where “conflicting or competing layers of context” emerge to cause tension wherein visual rhetoric is not so easily resolved.