Hocks, Mary E., and Michelle R. Kendrick, eds.  Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 2003.

Eloquent Images seeks to understand if new media/digital media should be understood as a “pastiche of existing forms of inquiry and communication” or if new media/digital media represents a paradigm shift that necessitates “new methods of inquiry and understanding” (Hocks and Kendrick 2).  The essays show that there is no answer, no single approach, no official way to understand new media but instead show the varied possibilities for understanding new media including the rhetorical and the cultural. Most essays here take up the textual vs. the visual debates. Many of the critiques discuss the complicated intersections of the text and the image, as the title suggests, with much historical emphasis. Interestingly, the authors claim that the aesthetic approach to new media is a “purely formal” one and that it is isolated from production and rhetorical contexts. Of course, I see the aesthetic as incorporating the formal, cultural and rhetorical aspects, etc….so I see am going to have to address this.)

Of the essays in this collection, one of the most interesting is Jay David  Bolter’s essay “Critical Theory and the Challenge of New Media.” In this chapter he demonstrates the need for a new critical theory that can merge cultural and historical issues as well as formal issues of design” (33). He continues to describe what a critical theory of new media should do: “ A new critical theory is needed that can make us aware of the cultural and historical contexts (and ideologies) without dismissing or downplaying the formal characteristics of new media. This theory needs to explain these formal characteristics without explaining them away, because practitioners have no choice: If they wish to create successful product, they must attend to these formal values (which used to be regarded as aesthetic values in art or utilitarian considerations in software engineering and computer programming). Any theory that is going to be useful for actual practice must offer the practitioner guidance in conceiving and executing the form of her work. A new critical theory should offer in addition an understanding of the cultural contexts in which the form is embedded. Such a theory should analyze and even criticize current cultural practices through new media forms. Instead of holding up new media forms such as the world wide web as examples of the excesses of late-capitalist culture, however, a new theory should turn new media forms themselves into vehicles of critique. Design in context must be critical and productive at the same time” (Bolter 34). Here Bolter insists that the aesthetic = the formal aspects of design.

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