Rhetorical/Critical InquiryCOMN2150

Week 7: Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism


• Continue learning about the various approaches/methods to apply critical/rhetorical inquiry

• Learn about Psychoanalytic Criticism • Minds & Self• Desire/Repression

• Learn about Visual Rhetorical Criticism • Images

• Meaning attribution• Collective memory• POV

Positioning the Methods: UNDERSTANDING-intervention

• Both Psychoanalytic Criticism & Visual Rhetorical Criticism focus on understanding the self & society

• How individuals are created socially & rhetorically→ function in society

• How does this differ from the previous methods we have explored?

• Psychoanalytic Criticism→ more focus on the creation of self

• Visual Rhetorical Criticism→ more focus on shared ways of seeing as a society

Psychoanalytic Criticism Characteristics & Principles:

• Psychoanalysis coined by Sigmund Freud (late 1800s/early 1900’s)

• Search for how the mind/psyche are formed• In relationship to other people• “Sense of self” → through words & images,

external signs, we become “ourselves”• Rhetorical in how to then appeal to the mind

• Seen as the “most suspicious” method→ always searching for meaning beyond face value

• Assumes every text of pop culture has a deeper meaning

• Used especially for film analysis (apparatus)• Representation of disempowered groups in

media/pop culture has real world effects → creates more diverse and inclusive minds and attitudes, seeing oneself represented in meaningful ways is empowering

Key Terms:

• Suture: the process by which we are “stitched in” to the story itself, in film our subject position becomes one of being “part” of the story itself (i.e. lose yourself within the story)

Signs appeal to us because:DESIRE→ for wholeness

● “The most powerful signs are those that offer people a chance to return to that original state of being a whole, complete person, a state before we knew ourselves as separate beings”

○ Pleasure principle v. reality principle

Desires must be repressed to function in society (creates the psyche=desire + repressions)

• Creates the “unconscious”• Huge influence on how we think, act

and feel

Psychoanalytic Criticism What does the critic using this method do?

• Look for what a culture or individual desires & why

• How does the “text” fulfill or express that repressed desire

Visual Rhetorical Criticism★ Images are Focal Points of Meaning Attribution

○ “Images, like language, have a structure–they appear in context– and they must be interpreted so as to extract meaning from them”

○ We constantly “read” and attach meaning to the images we see

○ Images are relatively more ambiguous than language

■ Circulation changes meanings→ memes○ Context- critical for interpretation & reducing

ambiguity (how image is organized, presented via news, even contextual language paired w/ image)

★ Images are Focal Points of Collective Memory & Community

○ Due to ambiguity-images can draw people together in solidarity (even when “reading” images differently)

■ Ex. De-racialized cartoon characters■ Ex. Memorials

Visual Rhetorical CriticismWhat does the critic using this method do?

• Look beyond the “obvious” meaning of an image

• How does context impact interpretations • Viewers own background impacts

interpretation-can you “see yourself” in the image?

• Ex. racial injustice, natural disasters, etc.

• Awareness of images as sites of struggle • How does ambiguity of images appeal to

social solidarity or create collective memory?

• How is the audience positioned within the “text”?

• Point of view→ empowered, privileged, subject

• Point of view→ disempowered, object


★ Both methods focus on UNDERSTANDING-intervention○ Understanding the self & society

★ Psychoanalytic Criticism○ Focus on how the mind is created○ In pop culture, we look for ways desire and repression are

expressed★ Visual Rhetorical Criticism

○ Focus on how we relate to the visual○ Images are more ambiguous, but meaning is heavily influential

and depends on context