The Rhetoric of Interpellation
February 12, 2008
Here’s some context for where I’ll ultimately go with this post: I’ve lately been consumed by a project whose grounding is a mixture of Althusser’s theory of interpellation and this nebulous THING we’re calling visual rhetoric. Here, said THING means something like it does in Chapter 2 of Defining Visual Rhetorics, i.e. being able to add a (logical) verbal narrative to an image. Further, to be able to add a narrative which assigns value to the image in terms of its ability to interpellate you [the viewer] into a subject [viewing + action] position. And specifically, when examining donor webpages on top public university sites, to get you to fork over some (well…lots, preferably) cash.
Helmers mentions frames. The frame is EVERYTHING when it comes to visual rhetoric. Take the museum-as-artifice example she uses at the end of the chapter. Did anyone think about their local science and/or nature museum here? How about amusement parks? Disney World???
Helmers: “What we experience in the space of the art museum is a way of seeing that is authored, not by the artist, but by the curators.”
The argument is in the arrangement! Juxtaposition! Subversion of (curators’ established) Ethos!
When I went to France for the first time, I actually said (and not even to myself…yes, out loud), “This is JUST like Epcot Center at Disney World.” The comparison was insane because it’s totally backwards (I this realized moments *after* it came roaring out of my mouth). In realizing that I’d had the simile reversed, I felt how completely I’d been interpellated into the ultimate subject position of THE CONSUMER by Disney World. Talk about a hugely successful “narrative framing device” on a billion dollar scale. What an attention structure!
Helmers: “Looking indicates the way things could be rather than proving the way things are” (84).
The brains behind Disney aren’t called ‘Imagineers’ for nothing.
My hypothesis: A forceful (dare I say emotional) mechanism behind visual rhetoric is interpellation–being hailed, called, or summoned into a subject role. And not just ANY subject role, but the role the artist, author, imagineer, designer WANTS you to play in order to capture your attention for, more often than not, monetary gain.
“Rhetorical meaning…appears to depend of perception [authored, actually, by the artist, not, as Helmers says, the viewer] and reception [authored, also and again by the artist]” (Helmers 85).
So…while we all want to believe in the rationality of experience as (ideally, for us) mediated by an ever more ubiquitous commingling of words and images, how much control do we really have over our perception? Assuming part of the way visual rhetoric (as persuasion) works is through interpellation, and assuming interpellation awards control of perception to the author of the experience, where does that leave the viewer on the other side of the frame?