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The Conceit of Context

Resituating Domains in Rhetorical Studies


Edited By Charles E. Morris III and Kendall R. Phillips

This edited volume features essays derived from presentations delivered at the 15th Biennial Public Address Conference held at Syracuse University in October 2016, as well as additional material. The Conceit of Context explores the often invoked—indeed a central term in the history of rhetorical studies—but less often engaged concept of context. In this volume, we center the notion of context as the site of engagement, critique, and imagination, seeking to deepen the critical and political promise of context in the study of public discourse.

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18 Speaking of Images: Rhetorics of Captivation and Technologies of Capture (Claire Sisco King)


Claire Sisco King

Images speak to us, we speak with images, and we speak of images. Such engagements with and through images should be understood, argues Cara Finnegan, as vernacularized—which is to say located in and shaped by specific contexts.1 These interpretive contexts are historical, cultural, and rhetorical; they are tied to mediums, genres, and modes of image-making; and they are also affective. Attending to the ways in which audiences have spoken with and about images, Finnegan argues, offers insight into how the images spoke to, or affected, their audiences in particular contexts.2

Jiyeon Kang further contends that consideration of how image vernaculars affect spectators reveals that captivating images make visible public feelings that may be as-of-yet underarticulated. Images captivate because of not only the scene, or content, they capture but also the sentiments and sensibilities, or contexts, they chart. Drawing from Kang’s work on the capacity of image vernaculars to captivate audiences through their anticipation and articulation of public feelings, this essay argues that rhetorics of captivation, or capture, have shaped the vernaculars of photographic and cinematic images in U.S. culture since the nineteenth century. Further, as Finnegan argues, image vernaculars engender enthymematic interpretations, as audiences make sense of what images “say” (and don’t “say”) in relation to their own social knowledge and subject positions.3 As such, this essay contends that, as images circulate through affective economies, their capacity to generate enthymematic responses illustrates and helps guarantee the contextually specific affective investments...

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