By Susan H. Delagrange // Reviewed by Amber M. Stamper

Chapter Three

   Embodiment by Design

“To counter this new move to disembody digital technology and its rhetorics, we must insist on the visuality and materiality of performances in our fields, even when those performances are through words, by affirming that visual representations are powerful and legitimate forms of communication, that embodied visual representation is an essential step toward including the contributions and concerns of those who are disenfranchised by the claim that ‘bodies don’t matter’, and that composing and designing with/in our ‘technological bodies’ is important scholarly work” (p. 66)

black and white mirror reflection Nikon camera close-up 

In Chapter Three, Delagrange makes two claims: first, that we must be more rhetorical (“attentive to audience, to purpose, and to the specific material exigencies of time and place”) in our approach to digital texts and, second, that visual embodiment in digital texts is one way to do so (p. 104). In regards to the first claim, she speaks to how issues of gender primarily (but race and other markers of difference might apply as well) are ignored if we uncritically accept a notion of texts as “value-neutral” or “immaterial,” as we are often taught to do with digital texts (p. 67). Leading her readers through a history of examples of how texts have been used to make claims about gender roles, she argues that we must be more aware of how such constructions take place in our use of digital media.

Looking specifically at historic anatomical illustrations, an elocution manual from the 1800s, and correspondence and speeches from the abolition movement, she explores how gender has been constructed in the past through images and how behavioral and social practices related to gender have been inscribed and prescribed in these texts. Delagrange critiques the “lack of attention” that has been given by scholars “to the specifically raced and gendered body in cyberspace,” an oversight which she argues is “just the latest move in a long history of pedagogical performances in which the ‘universal’ white, male body stands in/for all bodies” (p. 72). This has been carried out in digital scholarship through claims that media might—according to Enlightenment and Cartesian rationalism—be “disembodied,” “immaterial,” or ethically neutral (p. 102). Such a move is exemplified in the focus on the reductive principles of design that riddle popular textbooks and the persistent notion that somehow form might be separate from content. This approach, Delagrange argues, is deeply arhetorical, and she wonders if digital technology design has not already become so transparent that scholars are not easily able to see the ways in which such reasoning might hinder us. She points out that while, in theory, scholars have “resisted and/or rejected the tendency to conflate the masculine perspective with the human and commercial perspective with the universal,” we must now translate these values into practice and “take the next step toward affirming social, cultural, sexual, and racial differences, and addressing the inequities they entail” (p. 104).

glowing red and orange human fingerprints

As a solution, Delagrange suggests a re-valuation of the visual centered on understanding visual texts as embodied and as “a positive and valued form of representation and argument in practice” (p. 104). Specifically, she encourages scholars to promote wonder-based visual rhetoric through creating new media texts and new design guides and through learning to use the technology required to continue to do so and to keep up with the ever-evolving possibilities for creation and scholarship that digital technology offers. Failure to do so, she argues, will result in ignorant perpetuation of the myth that the visual should not be trusted, valued as serious academic work, or used to promote values and make ethical claims.

sketch of man inside braininfrared image of human body