When the object is the speaker: a test case for multimodal analysis

Penny Wheeler

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


    Rhetoric has long had explanatory power in multimodal analyses and theoretical considerations of multimodality. Given this history, an examination of multimodal artefacts which share one rhetorical device could test the ‘edges’ of multimodality theory by probing the functionality, materiality and communication (Bateman, Wildfeuer, & Hiippala, 2017, p. 89) of these objects. The rhetorical device shared by these artefacts is ‘prosopopoeia’, a class of metaphor “endowing inanimate objects with speech” (Shelestiuk, 2006), that is, a kind of personification. Prosopoetic objects are inscribed with a text such as “AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN” (“Alfred ordered me to be made”). This first-person text (“MEC”, “me”) can be considered with other modes, such as the visual and tangible, but there is an uncanny twist. The function of the rhetorical device is to simultaneously emphasise the “thingness” of the object, but also its “personhood”. So Mock (2016) is right when he claims “the creators’ desire to give the artefact a speaking identity ... directs the audience to focus on the materiality of the object itself”, but it is also true that the first person voice of the artefact directs the reader to focus on their own relationship with the object, the personal connection.This ambiguous effect of prosopopoeia is mentioned in Wheeler (2015), but in this presentation I would like to extend a multimodal analysis to the inscription’s placement in space. My contention is that where the inscription features on the object, or where the inscribed object is located in its context, can heighten the rhetorical effect of the prosopopoeia. There is an optional and playful element to these inscriptions: they can be discovered by the reader, or be overlooked without penalty. What might this mean for the concept of a communicative situation?
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2018
    Event9icom: Multimodality: moving the theory forward: Ninth International Conference on Multimodality - University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
    Duration: 15 Aug 201817 Aug 2018


    Conference9icom: Multimodality: moving the theory forward
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