By Sarah McNabb – Text & Image

Appropriately enough, I understood Kress’ meaning, theory  and explanations so much better when they were accompanied by… images. Go figure.

Kress points out that intertwining social, cultural, economic, and technological changes shape the world of communication and that many of the older terms point to shaping present communication purposes, however we should re-examine these terms, for example, representation.  Adequate (presumably new) theoretical tools are needed to address present social, economic, political and cultural conditions for semiosis (meaning making). I agree with this. One cannot measure the outreach of the Internet by treating it exactly like a telegraph. New modes of communication call for new treatments of communication theory.

History affects language, which in turn affects communication and the reach of modes. Trying to gain Kress’ “satellite view” of language by seeing it as one means of among many is very interesting. I agree with Kress’ view that there are some general semiotic principles common to all human communication. For example, everyone smiles at some point and that smile indicates some degree of happiness or gladness or pleasure, just as tears are a common communicator of some form of pain or that throwing up is the body’s way of communicating that something should be expelled for its own good.

I really liked his assertion of an “epistemological commitment” in terms of image representation. As in the cell example, the nucleus has to be drawn in the cell somewhere, but in the spoken or written response there is no commitment about placement (or size or shape). However, when spoken or written, “cell” and “nucleus” have separate names AND a relationship of possession between them that is described and so epistemological commitment takes place. This helps me view the spoken word and image completely differently and identify their relatioship to epistemology within this concept.

Kress’ discussion on authorship and its need to be theorized was also enlightening and pertinent to the times we live in. I think he is right – “plagiarism” seems to be a dated term whereas his description of “cutting and pasting” to create new communication and therefore a redistribution of power in communication is something that should be continually theorized. At what point does one describe “cutting and pasting” as “repurposing”? I think of Andy Warhol’s soup cans or Marilyn Monroe images. He took someone’s pre-made “pieces of communication” and changed their modes and meanings completely. I don’t recall that being widely accepted as plagiarism.

I also found it interesting that he mentions the use of images were not originally as broadly used as they are today. “- from the dominance of writing as the main or at times sole carrier of meaning to an increasing reliance on image.” In looking at old ads from 1920’s on for different products, they certainly used many more descriptive words than images. Today, even one image (such as the Nike swoosh, or the Apple symbol) can condition one to call to mind that company’s slogan without even having it be actually written in the ads (Nike – “Just Do It”, Apple “Think Different”).

I found it interesting that Kress used Noam Chomsky two or three times in his examples and that he was able to explain using semi-made up words to communicate his message when describing his child’s interpretation of what a car was by drawing a series of wheels: “For him, the criterial feature of car was its ‘wheel-ness’; it had many wheels.”

What I found particularly useful in terms of theory was Kress’ discussion on his question Is Layout a Mode? Positioning on a page from left-to right reading direction, right-most position and left-most position creates different meaning-potential. I like the idea that the information hierarchy on a page can carry with it a sub-relationship of meaning to the viewer.