Thursday, January 13, 2011

RELAY -> Needlework

In her contribution to Defining Visual Rhetorics, Maureen Goggin discusses the cultural history of needlework as a material/semiotic practice.  More specifically, she qualifies needlework as a unique kind of writing system.  What makes needlework especially significant for Goggin is the fluidity with which it negotiates the rhetorical tradition's arbitrary, logocentric division between the verbal and the visual:
Needlework as a practice may be best understood as a form of meaningful mark-making—a polysemous system of writing. It incorporates two broad families of writing systems—what Geoffrey Sampson has termed semasiographic systems and glottographic systems.  Semasiographic systems are defined as “systems of visible communication…which indicate ideas directly” (e.g., international sign symbols). The other, glottographic systems, are those “which provide visible representations of spoken-language utterances” (e.g., alphabet systems such as written English). (90)
According to Goggin, as the cultural place of needlework changed over history, its value as a semiotic resource (or writing system) eventually changed from a complex, expressive form of art to a standardized trade or skill.  In particular, early needlework samplers "served as a form of rhetorical invention," and, by the 16th century (the emergence of print culture and the Protestant Reformation), sampler makers began to incorporate the alphabet and numbers into their designs.  By the late 18th century, "text dominated English and American samplers...Sampler making slowly transformed as it participated in a web of other semiotic practices and circulations, especially those of cheap print" (98).  Pretty soon it became conventional for needlework samplers to center on textual, moral lessons; the work of needlepoint was by and large reduced to a matter of demonstrate one's skill at copying such textual signifiers.

Samplers became regarded as finished products for emulation (payoff: character building, showoff skill) rather than a heuristic designed to prompt invention (payoff: aesthetic, semiotic expression).  Goggin attributes this shift to the logocentric tendencies of (early) modern Western metaphysics/rhetoric (or "the bifurcation of word and image"), which she associates with the convergence of cultural force of religious politics and the material-rhetorical affordances print technology.  Generalizing from this analysis, Goggin presents a useful framework for considering any rhetorical practice or writing system:
...the materiality of constructing meaning is contingent on material resources, cultural values and cultural positioning. These factors, however, shift in response to kairotic conditions of time and place as well as technological, economic, social, political and cultural forces. In short, complex contextual forces both permit and limit resources, valuations and positioning, thus fostering certain material practices while limiting others, and, as a result, both cultivate and restrict the range of possible rhetorical participants and the rhetorical artifacts to which praxis may give rise or even be recognized...Underwhat circumstances might such an act be perceived as semiotic? What are the features that identify a material practice as a meaning-making, knowledge-generating endeavor? (89)

1 comment:

  1. What 'material resources, cultural values and cultural positioning' are shaping the development of augmented reality apps?

    If augmented reality apps, like needlework, constitute a polysemous writing system, then what are the most predominant similarities and differences between the two systems?

    What are the verbal-visual-aural semiotic or ontological affordances of augmented reality as a writing technology? And, how does the cultural place of augmented reality affect (engender, limit, or conceal) those affordances?

    Is there anything in the world of augmented reality apps that is akin to the figure of 'the sampler' in needlework?