SLWR Book Cover

Still Life With Rhetoric:
A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetorics

By: Laurie Gries

Review By: Angelia Giannone

Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-874219777, 336 pages.

"Part I: Theory"

In the first chapter of Part I, "Spatiotemporal Matters," Laurie Gries explains how scholars should approach thinking about research—intuitively, flowingly, ecologically—and she provides a lens through which scholars should think about images, which is deeply rooted in W.J.T. Mitchell’s theories about images (2004) and Lev Manovich’s (2001) ideas about virtual and actual space, along with notions of time and becoming (Gries, 2015, p. 37). Perhaps one of the central takeaways of this chapter, as it applies most directly to the Obama Hope image, concerns Gries’ subsection on “single multiple images” (pp. 39–42). A single multiple image can be defined as a single image that becomes a multiplicity of various iterations of the same image through remix and parody, as shown in the example below. This explains how the Obama Hope image began as Mannie Garcia's photograph of Obama and transformed into the Obama Hope image and then seemingly infinite parodies.

The concepts presented in "Spatiotemporal Matters" afford the reader the framework to begin thinking about images beyond inanimate objects and instead as living forms. Gries is successful in creating this foundation for us to begin to think about images as living because she situates images in rhetorical contexts, and without "the notion of rhetorical ecologies," images remain static and objective (p. 27). Additionally, this is where Gries begins to truly frame the parameters of iconographic tracking because she makes a clear argument for the rhetorical becomingness and thing-power of images, which are constituents of space and time (p. 27). Gries makes accessible the multiple theoretical components that ultimately shape the way in which scholars should think about and thus trace the lives of images.

Obama Hope poster, with an arrow pointing to similarly colored images of George W. Bush with the word 'dope' underneath and the Joker with the word 'joke' underneath

The second chapter of Part I, "Agential Matters," begins with attention to Marilyn Cooper’s (1986) idea of “ecology,” which Gries argues has allowed rhetoric and composition scholars to reconsider the rhetorical situation and its constituents (pp. 56–57). Thinking of images in terms of ecologies, Gries asserts, provides a more holistic and agency-centered space in which to analyze images. Throughout the chapter, Gries critiques the study of visual rhetoric, arguing that it inadequately attends to ecological thought—a concern that is difficult to dispute. To Gries, visual rhetoric from an ecological perspective takes into consideration the image’s networked relationships, especially as it pertains to "collective life" (p. 61). Gries' main takeaways from this chapter (which she further illustrates nicely in her case studies) attend to agency and actants (p. 57; p. 68), collective life and assemblages (pp. 61–63), and rhetorical transformation (pp. 63–64).

While both "Spatiotemporal Matters" and "Agential Matters" are quite definition-intensive, the topics in "Agential Matters" seem to most clearly relate to the rhetorical aspect of iconographic tracking and thus the Obama Hope case study broadly. Without viewing images as actants, (new) materials and images are thus less subjective and less rhetorical; vitality and virality are key to being able to, again, think about how to then track the lives of images via iconographic tracking. "Agential Matters" seems to be an extension of "Spatiotemporal Matters" insofar as "Spatiotemporal Matters" lays the foundation for scholars to think about images as changing, becoming, rhetorical things, while "Agential Matters" builds on this conversation by arguing that images are actants in a somewhat convoluted but nonetheless critical way.