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ECOSEE: TOWARD A VISUAL RHETORIC AND COMPOSITION OF NATURE
SEAN W. MORE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Sean W. Morey
For Dusty, Milo, Skye, and Toss
I owe too many people to acknowledge in this space. I thank Sid Dobrin for his
constant encouragement toward a project of ecosee. Without his guidance, suggestions,
and support, this project would not have developed. I also thank Andrew Gordon for his
time and effort with my writing: I know it is not always easy. Of my peers, I thank all of
them, but especially Clay Arnold for providing a sounding board for countless ideas, and
for explaining to me why some of them are actually good. I thank my brothers, Tim and
Andy, for always standing by me and slightly ahead; their brilliance and excellence
provides me with constant motivation. I thank my parents, Frank and Susan, for
supporting me in all my endeavors (even the dangerous ones), and for moving us to the
Keys. I thank Julie for plenty of fuel and furniture, and Nick, Megan, Sarah, Jess, and
Emma for everything else. I thank Coach Wise (and family), for providing me a house
back home, and for always having the boat ready and the bonefish scouted. Finally, I
thank Cathy, Milo, Dusty, Skye, and Toss, for putting up with me, waking me up in the
morning, and making this project worthwhile.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST OF FIGURES ............................................. ............................ vi
A B S T R A C T ...................................................................................................................... v ii
1 IN TROD U CTION : W H Y ECO SEE?...................................................... ...............1...
2 A RHETORICAL GROUNDING OF ECOSEE...................................................10
Ecospeak: Environmental Discourse and Rhetoric............................................... 10
The M edia's R ole ........................................................................ ...... ........ ............... 19
E cospeak and E cocom position ...................................... ..................... ................ 24
A R rhetoric of E cosee .............. ................... ............................................... 27
3 ECOSEE AND VISUAL SEM IOTICS................................................. ................ 34
Denotation, Connotation, and the Third Meaning.................................................38
Sem iotic A analysis of Im ages ....................................... ....................... ................ 4 1
E cotypes and Econs ......................................................... ... .. ... ......... .... .. .............. 45
Fins to the Left, Fins to the Right: A Case of Econic Synecdoche .........................51
A Catalogue of Econs and Ecotypes..................................................... 56
4 ECOSEE AND PICTURE THEORY..................................................... ............... 60
Ecosee and Ecospeak: A Sisterhood..................................................... 62
E k p h ra sis .................................................................................................................. ... 6 3
A n Im agetext: W hat's the B eef?............................................................. ................ 67
5 CONCLUSION: SOME ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ECOSEE..................77
R E F E R E N C E S .................................................................................................................. 8 5
BIO G RA PH ICA L SK ETCH .................................................................... ................ 89
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1. Take Nothing but Pictures, Leave Nothing but Bike Tracks.................................5...
1-2. "Panel of Lions" Cave Painting from Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc ..................................6...
1-3. View of Earth from the Apollo 17 Spacecraft........................................ ...............7...
2-1. Continuum of Perspectives on N ature.................................................. ............... 13
2-2. H orseshoe Configuration of Perspectives............................................. ............... 14
2-3. T im e's "P lanet of the Y ear" ................................................................. ................ 3 1
3-1. E evolution of the A lphabet.......................................... ........................ ................ 35
3-2. Shark A attacking H helicopter ........................................ ....................... ................ 37
3-3. Alba, GFP Bunny. ............. ................................................... 38
3-4. W orld W wildlife Fund L ogo ........................................ ........................ ................ 46
3-5. Logos of Various Environm ental Groups............................................. ................ 47
3-6. Dorsal Fin of Shark........................... .......... ........................ 52
3-7. "The Lawyer's Club".................................................................. 53
3-8. Shark Fins ............................................................................... ........................... 55
4-1. Steak: "What Vegetarians Eat When They Cheat". .............................................69
4-2. M etapicture of the D uck-R abbit........................................................... ................ 72
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
ECOSEE: TOWARD A VISUAL RHETORIC AND COMPOSITION OF NATURE
Sean W. Morey
Chair: Sidney I. Dobrin
Major Department: English
This thesis presents a theory of ecosee, a theory of how humans see "nature" and
environments through images of nature (or nature itself), and how they construct nature
based upon that perception. The environmental movement, which has taken various
forms since its modern inception in the late 1960s, has sparked wide scholarship on the
ways that messages about the environment are communicated. However, most of this
debate has been couched in verbal language. If we are to believe, according to Gregory
L. Ulmer, that our culture is moving from literacy (print-culture) to electracy (imagetext-
culture), then the practice of this debate must include both verbal and visual discourses.
However, current studies that look at the ways in which humans communicate nature pay
little attention to how humans use images to spread eco-political capital, and how these
images might interact with texts and other images.
This thesis examines the roles that images play within the construction of
"nature," both in their normative uses that reify conventional ways that we see nature,
and also as specific argumentative attempts to visually construct nature beyond what we
usually see and therefore overlook. Although a larger theory of ecosee eventually
requires a wholistic disciplinary approach (including humanities and hard and soft
sciences), this thesis looks at three specific aspects of rhetoric and image: textual-based
environmental rhetoric, visual semiotics, and picture theory. Within the intertext of these
disciplines, the beginnings of ecosee will emerge.
This thesis also considers the ethics of nature's representation. Theories of ecosee
offer the possibility for interpretation (understanding how we "see" nature), but also for
production-toward making new images of nature based upon such understandings. The
possibility exists for these theories to augment the rhetorical tools of environmental
discourse, to allow individuals to recognize nature as a verbal and visual construction,
and to give individuals the agency to produce new verbal and visual constructions.
Theories of ecosee can help individuals recognize the conventional rhetorical devices and
their intended effects, and these viewers can then accept or reject those meanings, or once
they recognize these hidden meanings (what Barthes calls the "obtuse meaning"),
construct their own concept of nature and use images of nature rhetorically. Hopefully,
such a practice will help fulfill W. J. T. Mitchell's suggestion that we must not just
interpret pictures, but "change" them.
INTRODUCTION: WHY ECOSEE?
My first view-a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green
and gray and white was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that
this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It
had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but
something was missing-I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual
spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no
triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of
this sphere for ourselves.
-Charles Walker, U.S. Astronaut
Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.
The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors because the whole of
nature is a metaphor of the human mind.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature is visible thought.
The environmental movement, which has taken various forms since its modern
inception in the late 1960s, has sparked wide scholarship on the ways that messages
about the environment are communicated. Such terms for this study usually include
environmental rhetoric, environmental discourse, or ecocomposition. These subject
areas, usually housed in departments of History, Political Science, Natural Sciences,
Communications, and English, focus on the language used by both environmentalists and
anti-environmentalists1 and how this language becomes coded and appropriated by all
1 I use the terms environmentalist and anti-environmentalists as generalizations for different groups who do
not necessarily share the same viewpoints. For example, environmentalists include preservationists and
conservationists, even though the two groups approach environmental activism from different perspectives.
While also a generalization, preservationists wish to save nature for its intrinsic value, while
conservationists wish to "conserve" nature to make it available for social (human) needs.
sides of eco-political struggles. However, these studies pay little attention to how images
are used to spread eco-political capital and how these images might interact with texts
and other images. While scholars focus on the verbal representation of nature and the
environment, they overlook its visual representation; they either do not consider the
visual, or because it pervades physical landscapes and popular culture, the look over it to
address the verbal.
The study of nature's visual representation is important given that a large part of
experiencing nature involves seeing. Much of the rhetoric that environmentalists or
nature enthusiasts evoke is that of the visual expanse of nature: grand vistas, crystal clear
waters, resplendent flora and fauna. One can see this in the writings of John Ruskin:
This first day of May, 1869, I am writing where my work was begun thirty-five
years ago, within sight of the snows of the higher Alps. In that half of the
permitted life of man, I have seen strange evil brought upon every scene that I best
loved, or tried to make beloved by others. The light which once flushed those pale
summits with its rose at dawn, and purple at sunset, is now umbered and faint; the
air which once inlaid the clefts of all their golden crags with azure is now defiled
with languid coils of smoke, belched from worse than volcanic fires; their very
glacier waves are ebbing, and their snows fading, as if Hell had breathed on them;
the waters that once sank their feet into crystalline are now dimmed and foul, from
deep to deep, shore to shore. These are no careless words-they are accurately-
horribly-true. I know what the Swiss lakes were; no pool of Alpine fountain at its
source was clearer. This morning, on the Lake of Geneva, at half a mile from the
beach, I could scarcely see my oar-blade a fathom deep. (Preface)
Ruskin describes the declining quality of his environment due to pollution from nearby
factories, but this passage is not interesting because of what it says about threats from
pollution so much as what its says about two ways in which the environmentally
concerned understand nature. First, Ruskin shows us how those deeply concerned for the
environment feel a pressing need to write about it. They need to actively and discursively
construct their idea of nature, and here Ruskin compares two states of his environment at
two different times. However, Ruskin also shows us how we discursively construct not
just a general picture of nature, but construct picture itself. Ruskin employs visual cues
such as various colors, sunsets, mountains, light, and "crystalline." He also uses visual
verbs such as sight, seen, and see. Perhaps because of his profession as an art critic,
Ruskin knows what his lakes were through the visual, and he knows that the environment
is healthy when it is clear and clean.
Although Ruskin uses imagery to create a textual picture of his environment, it is
not an image. As Gorgias argues in Plato's dialogue of the same name, "To begin with,
he does not say a color, but a saying" (980 b 5). Plato's point, and one that Jean-Frangois
Lyotard maintains, is that we can never know the object in the world but can only address
it and understand it through language. Despite the term "imagery" as used in poetry, the
imagery of language is not image. It may rely upon the metaphor of sight and convey
images within the mind, but ten words in a poem will necessarily leave out the other 990
signifiers that visual images can convey.
Lyotard also explains that we construct reality through language: "Reality is not
what is 'given' to this or that 'subject,' it is a state of the referent (that about which one
speaks) which results from the effectuation of establishment procedures defined by a
unanimously agreed-upon protocol" (4). The reality of "nature" is similarly an agreed
upon social construction that humans often take for granted as "real." There is no
"nature" that exists in the world except as a discursively constructed concept. Again
quoting Lyotard: "even in physics, there exists no protocol for establishing the reality of
the universe, because the universe is the object of an idea" (5). Just as "reality is not a
given" (9), nature is not a given but must be established through language, whether that
language include the verbal, visual, or both.
Although perhaps true of most of our daily interactions, our interaction with nature
is inherently visual; most of our outdoor activities rely on sight for their engagement.
One visits the Grand Canyon to experience its visual vastness; one hikes along the
Florida Scenic Trail for its scenery. Signs to such parks and recreation areas often
enforce this interaction: "Leave only footprints, take only photographs," or variations
thereof (figure 1-1). Activities such as photography, fishing, or hunting all require the
visual for their participation and enjoyment, and even the tools used to carry out these
activities reflect this: a camera lens; a fishing lure that seeks to visually mimic natural
prey, attached to the line by the hook's "eye"; a hunting rifle's "sight."
It is not surprising then that Homo sapiens' first artwork was of nature.2 Many
scholars have pointed to the caves at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc as evidence of the human
propensity toward representing nature through art (figure 1-2). Humans most likely
represented nature visually before they did so discursively, and the caves in France depict
such animals as rhinoceroses, lions, bears, and mammoths. However, with these
paintings comes a human visual construction of nature. What does it mean that compared
with other regions of France, the caves at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc depicted dangerous
2 Or as I argue in Chapter 3, this artwork really constitutes writing, and thus Homo sapiens' first writing
was of nature.
Figure 1-1. Take Nothing but Pictures, Leave Nothing but Bike Tracks. Sign from San
Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, Gainesville, Florida, at the entrance to
the mountain biking trails. Photo by the author.
animals, while "the animals most often depicted in Paleolithic caverns are the same as
those that were hunted" ("Time and Space")? Could this suggest that even within the
same area different people valued, through representation, different parts of nature over
others? Did one group represent nature because of its use as food, while another did so
because of its potential danger? I have no good answer for any of these questions, but the
representation of nature itself becomes a construction of nature, and the difference in
representation suggests the difference in ideological construction.
Given the historical importance of images in constructing nature, it is little
wonder that environmental groups have incorporated images into their rhetorical
strategies and that they rally around constructed icons. Robert Gottlieb points out that
"more than many social movements, environmentalism has become associated with
compelling ideas and images-whether Nature (the value of wilderness) or Society (the
negative associations of urban pollution or hazards)" (5). These images do not become
Figure 1-2. "Panel of Lions" cave painting from Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc. Photo taken by
Jean-Marie Chauvet. Photo taken from "Time and Space: The Significance of
the Cave." The Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc. 14 Dec. 2004
passively associated with any particular environmental idea or political movement, but
are actively incorporated into the agenda of such groups because of the images' rhetorical
qualities, based in the pathos, ethos, or logos of an image, or a combination of the three.
However, some images are so shocking that they almost instantly become iconic on their
own. Maarten Hajer explains this about the representation of the Earth (figure 1-3):
If there is one image that has dominated environmental politics over the last
twenty-five years it is the photo of the planet Earth from outer space. This picture,
which entered the public imagination as an offspring of the 1960s Apollo space
programme, is said to have caused a fundamental shift in thinking about the
relationship between man and nature. The confrontation with the planet as a
colorful ball, partly disguised by flimsy clouds, and floating seemingly aimless in a
sea of utter darkness, conveyed a general sense of fragility that made people aware
of human dependence on nature. It facilitated an understanding of the intricate
interrelatedness of the ecological processes on planet Earth. Indeed, the image, it is
said, caused a cognitive elucidation through which the everyday experience of life
in an industrialized world was given a different meaning. (8)
Like Ruskin, Hajer shows us the Earth (or in this case, a representation of the Earth)
through language rather than including the photograph in his book. He describes Earth's
colors, shape and features to provide his reader with a verbal picture of the planet.
Although Hajer claims that the image was so powerful, and he points this out at the
beginning of his work, the written word takes precedence over the image. Of course,
unlike cavemen, we no longer rely solely on images as material media to convey
meaning, but have transitioned to written text; Ruskin and Hajer's depictions make clear
that if we want to understand how pictures represent the environment, we must come to
them through a textual explanation. As Robert Gottlieb also explains, "these images are
made manifest by language and representation" (5).
Figure 1-3. View of Earth from the Apollo 17 spacecraft. Photo taken from "Earth -
Apollo 17." 29 Jan. 2003. Catalog of Spaceborne Imaging: A Guide to
NSSDC's Planetary Image Archives. 14 Dec. 2004.
If these images are so important to both Hajer and Gottlieb, why do both abandon
their discussion of the image after just one reference? Both authors quickly turn from
image and its impact on the perception of the environment to language. If images are so
powerful in how we construct environment, as Haj er points out with the image of the
Earth as seen from the Apollo 17, then scholars should focus beyond environmental
rhetoric and discourse as primarily language-based and also look at it as image-based.
They should examine how the environment creates images, and how these images create
the idea of the environment. This is the project of ecosee: to study the visual
representation of nature and environments in photographs, paintings, television, movies,
video games, and all forms of visual (new) media. Such a study theorizes how humans
use images to construct ideas of nature and environment, how those images reinforce
those constructions, and how humans may use existing images (or make new ones) to
create alternative ways of seeing nature and environment. These images are riddled with
various symbols and ideograms with connotative suggestions beyond their denotative
meanings. Theories of ecosee consider how and what images-both the idea of the
image and specific images themselves-might suggest about the environment, and would
also look toward a variety of perspectives from different disciplines-visual semiotics,
environmental rhetoric, image theory, spatial theory, ecology, to name a few-and their
elements that theories of ecosee might contain. In order to explore such theories, I have
organized this paper as a type of heuretic that will use current understandings of
environmental rhetoric, visual semiotics, and picture theory in order to create a relay
against which we might begin to see how we see nature, or as systems theorists such as
Humberto Maturana, FranciscoVarela, and more recently Cary Wolfe explain, the
"observation of observation."3 This "observation of observation" would allow both the
interpretation of seeing nature, and also the production of new images based upon that
' For a detailed discussion of Maturana, Varela, and how systems theory relates to nc%% social movements"
such as environmentalism, see Wolfe, Cary. Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the
F ii 'i,, .... of the "Outside." Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998.
interpretation. In other words, by looking at how humans look at nature, just as we study
how humans speak and write about it, ecosee offers the possibility for the construction
and composition of new images toward rhetorical goals.
With the analysis of verbal rhetoric in mind, chapter two focuses on oral and
written environmental rhetoric as discussed in two works on the subject: M. Jimmie
Killingswoth and Jacquline S. Palmer's Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics
in America, and Maarten A. Hajer's The Politics of Environmental Discourse. Through
these works I examine some of the major rhetorical constructs of environmental discourse
in order to extract how a discourse and rhetoric of images might use similar techniques to
create eco-political arguments about the environment.
Chapter three moves toward visual semiotics, where I borrow terms from Roland
Barthes and Femande Saint-Martin in an attempt to extract a basic semiotics of
environmental images. While such a semiotics may extend to all images, I adopt specific
terms that I see working within environmental rhetoric. Such eco-specific terms include
ecotype and econ, which become equivalents of archetypes and icons. Through such
terms, I define a rudimentary language of eco-visual semiotics toward ecosee.
In chapter four I examine W. J. T. Mitchell's Picture Theory. Here, I expand
chapters two and three through the Mitchell's understanding of images and the imagetext,
and how image and text necessarily depend on one another within images of the
environment. If we can only understand nature through language, then we can only
understand images in this way as well. Through the intertext of these works, I hope to
establish a rough heuretic device that will generate a working theory of ecosee.4
4 With heuretics, I am borrowing from Gregory L. Ulmer's logic of invention. See Gregory L. Ulmer.
Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1994.
A RHETORICAL GROUNDING OF ECOSEE
[T]he ozone hole is too social and too narrated to be truly natural; the strategy of
industrial firms and heads of state is too full of chemical reactions to be reduced to
power and interest; the discourse of the ecosphere is too real and too social to boil
down to meaning effects.
-Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern
Ecospeak: Environmental Discourse and Rhetoric
Since our understanding of images is grounded in their description through
language, I first turn to a study of how environmental discourse and rhetoric is typically
employed in written text. Despite the wide scholarship on environmental rhetoric
mentioned in the introduction, many books that address some form of environmental
rhetoric do so in only a chapter or two before looking at larger political questions. As
rhetoricians, M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer discuss the rhetorical
constructs of the environmental debate from a perspective of rhetoric and composition,
with more interest in the formation of the argument than in the argument itself.
In their book Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America,
Killingsworth and Palmer attempt to understand "the relationships among language,
thought, and action in environmental politics" (xi). Some of the larger questions that
stem from their discussion involve how American society and culture discursively
construct their environment, and how different political factions attempt to harness that
language to advance their own agendas. Killingsworth and Palmer look at a wide range
of environmental language, what the authors term a "Babel of discourse," and seek to
map this discursive landscape towards the goal of practical use. Ecospeak encompasses a
babel of discourse because so many different actors, including environmentally motivated
political action groups, scientists, media, government agencies, authors, and more
economically motivated groups such as corporations all contribute to this web of
discourse. Thus, ecospeak is not just a study about the relationships between rhetoric,
politics, and the environment, but also about the ecology of discourse. A study of
ecospeak does not just examine speaking about ecology, but also the ecology of
Killingsworth and Palmer identify ecospeak as an entity that already exists in
public discourse. The various agents described above, through their various discourses,
have already created, to a large extent, a modern-day linguistic creature identified by
Killingsworth and Palmer as "ecospeak." Thus, ecospeak is not necessarily a mode of
inquiry in itself; it is not (only) a lens through which to view discourse, but an actual
genre of discourse at work in environmental arguments. Therefore, a study of ecospeak
(or a criticism of ecospeak as discussed by Killingsworth and Palmer) attempts to reveal
the workings of the environmental debate: "rhetorical analysis breaks the hold of
ecospeak by identifying various discourses on the environment before they are
galvanized by dichotomous political rhetoric. It does so too by studying the
transformation of these discourses as they enter the public realm by way of a local
discourse community" (10). As Killingsworth and Palmer rightly point out, the method
to criticize ecospeak is through the analysis of rhetoric, discourse, and composition as it
pertains to environmental conflicts.
1 Within this paper, I will use the terms ecospeak and ecosee with a lowercase "E" when referring to
theories, and Ecospeak with a capital "E" and italicized when referring to Killingsworth and Palmer's
One of the main features of ecospeak is its association with locality, and its
recognition that "all groups have a particular perspective and use a specialized language
developed specifically to describe and stimulate the practices characteristic of their
particular outlook on the world" (6). While all politics may be local, all environmental
politics is certainly a matter of place. Different communities inhabit different
ecosystems, and therefore have different environmental problems. For example, while
some communities might share similar concerns about drilling in the environment-
Alaskans might debate over drilling in ANWAR while Floridians debate about drilling in
the Gulf of Mexico-the impact of drilling has different effects for these communities;
Alaskans are concerned about disturbing the pristine naturalness of the preserve and its
effects on their local flora and fauna, while Floridians are concerned with their local flora
and fauna, such as fish, marine mammals, their habitats, and water quality. These
different areas will form their own discourse communities that discuss their local
problems. Of course, these discourse communities are all interrelated, as the politics of
the ANWAR debate has seeped into national politics as a symbol of the battle of liberal
environmentalists versus conservative developers. The arguments around the ANWAR
debate rely on past conversations about similar eco-political arguments to develop
strategies and approaches, and the ANWAR rhetorical strategies will then influence
conversations about future environmental debates.
This competition between groups becomes the second major facet within eco-
political debates: an oversimplified dichotomy that situates one homogenized group
against another. As Killingsworth and Palmer illustrate, the dichotomy most often
reported is that between environmentalists and developers. Although media reports
contribute to this schism, these groups often reify this dichotomy by assuming ecospeak
to be an effective rhetorical strategy. This frame of argument, us against them, "is rarely
a matter of historical necessity, however, but rather a device of discourse used by one
side or the other (often both) to mobilize forces against a palpable villain" (10). A
rhetorical analysis of this type of device seeks to destabilize the efficacy of simply pitting
one group against another, groups that may not even exist, but are merely discursively
constructed by the very nature of ecospeak.
Nature as Object Naiure as Resource Nature as Spirit
I I I I
traditional or government business & agriculture social ecology deep ecology
mainstream industry (humanistic 'wilderness ethic,
science environmentalism) nature mysticism)
Figure 2-1. Continuum of Perspectives on Nature (Killingsworth and Palmer 11).
Another dichotomy manifests in how groups view the concept of nature. Authors
usually construct nature within a linear continuum (figure 2-1). At one end is nature as
object, usually held by scientists who use quantitative methods to objectively measure
empirical evidence of the identity of nature. The other end, nature as spirit, comprises the
viewpoint of deep ecology, a movement that views nature as an entity that has inherent
value beyond the use value given it by science or industry. The middle of the continuum
believes in nature as resource, that nature exists for human consumption and enjoyment.
To some extent, both extremes threaten the middle, for science wishes to save nature for
study at the very least, and deep ecology movements wish to save nature because it is its
own mystic entity and has value equal to human value. While individuals within these
groups rarely hold any fixed view of nature, and although their views shift along the
continuum depending on context and locality, "Ecospeak and related forms of political
rhetoric seek to achieve a measure of control over an audience or an opponent in debate
by categorizing the opponent into a single role assigned on the basis of a dominant
attitude" (12). This makes it difficult for an individual to hold seemingly contradictory
viewpoints and maintain any credibility. The groups most at risk of losing a sense of
authorial identity (and authority) are those at the poles of the continuum, scientific and
deep ecology movements, who may disagree on how they view nature but act in concert
to save it. This allows the middle, usually business and industry, to characterize them as
allies, which may or may not be the case. Because of this rhetorical association,
Killingsworth and Palmer reconfigure the linear continuum into a horseshoe (figure 2-2),
which better shows the relationships between the groups: "This plotting of the
perspectives visually suggests four concepts important to our analysis of the rhetoric of
environmental politics-hegemony, opposition, tension, and direction of appeal" (14).
Nature as Object Nature as Resource
adigure 2-2. Horseal shoe Configuration of Perspectives (Killingsworth andt Palmer 14).
deep ecoaigy socwl eoogy agrvuflureO
Nature as Spirit
Figure 2-2. Horseshoe Configuration of Perspectives (Killingsworth and Palmer 14).
Two possible hegemons exist within this diagram. The first power used to consist,
and still does to a large extent, of the upper horizontal axis, the axis of science,
government, and industry whose "greatest glory came in alliance with one another,
potently symbolized in the Manhattan Project and the continued development of the
scientific-military-industrial complex after World War II" (15). The lower axis threatens
this group with its rhetoric of nature as either spirit or resource, depending on where the
upper agents slide on a particular issue. For example, government becomes an uncertain
variable in the upper axis because it is more fluid than science or industry; government
"moves this way and that according to the orientation of a particular congress or a
particular administration" (13). As Killingsworth and Palmer point out, government
cares little about science or industry, except as they may help perpetuate the system of
government. Government may side with either because it does not hold a fixed view of
nature, which "may become either an object of study or a resource to be managed, but
neither is the ultimate aim of government institutions" (13). The second hegemon, which
Killingsworth and Palmer suggest may be coming into power now, is the group along the
vertical axis, deep ecology and science, then linked with government. This power
depends upon the discursive links that the three are able to form, that is, how the three
will transform themselves to create a joint subject position since "hegemony supposes the
construction of the identity of social agents, and not just a rationalist coincidence of
'interests' among preconstituted agents" (15). Given the direction of appeals in figure 5,
deep ecology has the most to gain from such a relationship, which receives only a small
amount of attention from traditional science. The rhetoric of nature as spirit would have
to appeal to government as a viable discursive position, and this can only happen when a
favorable administration causes government to slide far enough to the left to ally itself
with science, and cause the horseshoe to roll.
The diagram displays opposition between groups vertically and horizontally, with
the most powerful agents along the upper horizontal axis-powerful because they control
the dominant discourse about the environment, while deep ecology, social ecology, and
agriculture hold marginal viewpoints. The opposition between these two axes also
represents a city-based viewpoint of nature, in that the upper institutions are usually
found in urban areas, and an "earth-conscious" axis comprises the lower axis, which all
have their focus in the country or areas where "nature" actually is. The placement of
these opposites also relates to the tension between the various groups, even among agents
along the same axis. While the "city-based" axis stands in opposition and in tension with
the "earth-conscious" axis, Killingsworth and Palmer explain that although science and
industry rely on the government for funding and policy decisions that favor their
interests, "the two fields greatly resent their own dependence and the intervention" (17)
that government provides. While agriculture depends on industry for supplies, financing,
or freight, "it does so in a mood of profound mistrust-a mistrust that dates back
centuries" (17). Social and deep ecology share many attributes, but social ecology might
be said to promote conservation, while deep ecology promotes preservation. One
advocates environmental protection for sustainability and human interests, while the
other advocates a non-anthropocentric concern for nature. This tension places the two
usual allies at odds, when environmental groups such as Earth First! engage in acts of
ecoterrorism, acts that are condemned by less radical social ecology groups such as the
Sierra Club. These tensions set up dynamics between the different agents that determine
their alliances and adversaries, which may change depending on the issue. Agriculture
does not want government intervention in how it can use its land, but it also wants
subsidies that help it stay competitive. Such tensions "charge the atmosphere of
American environmental politics and partly define the nature of typical rhetorical
In figure 5, government need only make appeals to science and industry, but not to
the members of the lower axis. Within the direction of appeals, it holds the most
favorable position and needs to make the least amount of appeals while receiving the
most. This puts government in the most powerful rhetorical position, the agent that has
the most subjectivity to act and affect change. Traditional science, industry, ecology,
and agriculture all have an interest in persuading government toward their viewpoint. As
Killingsworth and Palmer explain it:
The horizontal opposition (with the poles more or less equivalent to the
environmental/developmentalist conflict) is mediated by government, now placed
in the central position, the object of everyone's appeal. Both sides would likely
agree that government, especially the federal government, has become (for better or
worse) the key player in the environmental dispute, the institution with the power
to regulate ecological research, environmental action, and development of
Conversely, if government holds the most power, social ecology exhibits the least,
partially because it has the least polarizing identity, and instead tries to place itself not in
total opposition to any particular agent, but to bring together all parties within a culture of
sustainability and responsible stewardship. Social ecology must appeal to science for
their rhetoric of good ecological measures toward this sustainability; it must appeal to
government, who enacts policies that encourage sustainable practices; it must appeal to
industry to forego all-out capitalism in favor of a sustainable progress as opposed to an
optimized progress; and it must convince agriculture to grow products that support a
sustainable-based food source. Deep ecology cares only about appealing to science and
government, for it mistrusts the alliance of industry and business in their rape of nature,
while agriculture directs its main appeals toward the industry with which they rely on to
carry out business, and government, to whom they lobby their concerns about land use
restrictions and financial subsidies.
Thus, through rhetorical strategies of hegemony, opposition, tension, and
direction of appeals, ecospeak allies groups and places them against each other depending
on context. Whole groups can form alliances, or competition between groups can erupt,
as is often the case within the scientific community, where scientists present varying
results and create controversy. One only has to look at the issue of global warming to see
the scientific debate in practice. Some scientists may side with deep ecology, while
others side with industry, whether purposefully or not. When working together, these
groups form what Maarten Hajer describes as discourse coalitions, composed of
... such actors as scientists, politicians, activists, or organizations representing
such actors, but also having links with specific television channels, journals and
newspapers, or even celebrities. These so called discourse coalitions somehow
develop and sustain a particular discourse, a particular way of talking and thinking
about environmental politics. (13)
As Hajer points out, these actors may not even know each other, but become associated
through similar story-lines that discursively link them as allies. These story-lines are
sometimes formed by the various actors themselves, who nonetheless understand the
story-line differently from each other, and come to the story-line for different reasons.
Hajer uses the example of the rainforest, where a systems-ecologists looks at it as "an
essential element in his or her mathematical equations that model the world or
biosphere"; other actors include the World Wildlife Fund that cares more about forest
clear cutting and the habitat destruction of many rare animal and plant species, NASA
which demonstrates the change of the rainforest through satellite imagery, and the artist
Sting, who in the 1980s lived among the indigenous people, sharing their culture that
relies upon the rainforest for its existence. Although these actors come to the "problem"
of the rainforest from different perspectives, "they all help to sustain, in their own
particular way, the story-line of the destruction of the rainforests in environmental
The Media's Role
The media also play a pivotal role in ecospeak, particularly by publicizing various
actors, and thus contribute by publishing the various story-lines which participating
actors share. In doing so, the media often create characterizations through the use of
these storylines and create stock character types which then become incorporated in
ecospeak. Examples include those who chain themselves to redwoods and become "tree
huggers," and vegetarians who are "soy lovers"; other labels include bunnyhugger,
earthie, earthlover, ecowarrior, ecoterrorist, granola-muncher, hempie, hippy, lefty,
liberal, moonbaby, sandal-wearer; vs. anti-green, biolooter, bunnyboiler, conservative,
eco-perp, landraper, pollutocrat, righty, and tree-thugger. The use of such cliches as ad
hominem labels perhaps represents the lowest use of ecospeak. Of course, the media
receive these terms from competing discourses, and although they might try to be honest
brokers and provide objective coverage, journalists depend on information from
secondhand sources, and some
... depend exclusively on interviews (micronarratives); and if a particular source
proves to be more willing about sharing information or to have a more interesting
slant on a particular story, journalists may consciously or unconsciously privilege
that source and thereby betray their own objectivity. (Killingsworth and Palmer
Often, the catchier or more appealing a group can make a label, the more likely the media
will incorporate it into a story. Also, the more a group makes its information available,
the more likely the media is to cover it. Although "tree huggers" was meant to have a
negative connotation, they receive a large amount of media attention by chaining
themselves to trees marked to be cut by timber companies. Of course, "tree huggers"
have embraced this term and incorporated it as a desirable description for themselves. In
a way, both discursive sides win: environmentalists get media coverage, and developers
gain a new term for their ecospeech.
Killingsworth and Palmer describe two aspects of reporting that consist of the
media's "interpretation of information value the concept of 'news' and the concept of
'human interest'" (134). News constitutes any information that the public might not
know about, or that they might have heard of, but have not yet received sufficient
information about to form an opinion. "News dwells upon the unfamiliar, the strange, the
huge, the surprising turn of events, the trouble spot, the crisis. In this sense, news
reporting is the rhetorical equivalent of crisis-based government" (134). While oil
tankers have crashed in the past, and released millions of gallons of oil into the sea, every
subsequent crash of significant importance becomes another new crisis that must be
covered as news. The media may string these singular incidents together and create a
larger story about topics such as environmental degradation, a part of which is oil spills.
Such larger stories fall under the category "human interest" stories, and are covered based
upon the level of impact on humans. Large-scale stories, such as environmental
degradation or the story of "global warming," receive mass media attention, while human
interest environmental stories may receive less broad, more localized treatment if only
important to a certain region. Thus, target audience plays an important part in what
stories get covered, and thereby affects a particular slant that the media might give a
The media may color their journalism by using a preexisting ecospeak developed
by past discursive events between competing groups. Since journalists rely on secondary
sources for their information, and then often report that information through paraphrase
and direct quotations, the media will naturally present stories filled with ecospeak as long
as those actors about which they report resort to such discourse. The media then does not
just report about environmental issues but, for better or worse, contributes to the
propagation of ecospeak. Ecospeak is attractive to the media because it provides certain
recognizable practices, a clear discourse "as a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and
categorizations that is produced, reproduced, and transformed in a particular set of
practices and through which meaning is given to physical and social realities" (Hajer 60).
Using such a standard discourse of environmental debate, the media simply has to find
stories and then present them according to conventional discursive relationships and
positioning as determined by ecospeak.
Moreover, in order to receive media coverage, actors necessarily need to use these
existing discursive relationships-they need to engage in ecospeak-to create an ethos
that will convince the media of their importance or credibility in an environmental
discussion. In a self-perpetuating cycle of ecospeak, actors must create credibility by
drawing "on the ideas, concepts and categories of a given discourse: for instance, if an
actor's credibility depends on the usage of the terms of ecological modernization in the
domain of environmental politics" (Hajer 60-61). If a scientist wants to make a point
about global warming, she has to do so according to the rhetorical conventions that have
developed during previous debates about global warming, and has to employ the terms
that befit her position as scientist:
The disciplinary force of discursive practices often consists of the implicit
assumption that subsequent speakers will answer within the same discursive frame.
Even if they do try to challenge the dominant story-line, people are expected to
position their contribution in terms of known categories. Discursive challenges
may consist of withstanding understandings in terms of routinized categories, or,
often even more powerful, in establishing new combinations within seemingly
traditional discursive structures (e.g. by introducing new historical examples). This
would be an example of how the discoursing subject can actively exploit the
tactical polyvalence of discourse. (Hajer 57)
The scientist is trapped within a certain discursive practice; to speak outside of those
discursive and rhetorical conventions would destroy her rhetorical ethos and her
credibility. Actors in environmental politics face a rhetorical dilemma: should they argue
according to the terms set by other actors such as the government, industry, or
environmental groups, "or insist on their own mode of expression?" (Hajer 57). The
media can only understand and make sense of her argument if she frames it according to
preestablished discursive guidelines, and when they then report on her argument, they
reframe it in terms consistent with previous uses of ecospeak, and continue the cycle of
Thus, by covering any aspect of a human-interest story, like global warming or the
rainforest, the media reinforce the whole story-line. As mentioned earlier, each actor
who stakes a claim to the rainforest issue recalls a larger story-line about that issue, even
if he or she represents only one aspect of that larger issue. As Hajer describes, individual
parts of a story function as a metaphor for the whole: "The point of the story-line
approach is that by uttering a specific element one effectively reinvokes the story-line as
a whole. It thus essentially works as a metaphor" (62-63). A story about a "tree hugger"
who chains herself to a redwood becomes both news and also a human-interest story
because it involves the larger story-line of deforestation and an even larger story about
development and the degradation of the natural environment. The "tree hugger" becomes
a metaphor for her issue, but also for all environmental activists who go to such lengths
for their cause.
Such story-lines are attractive to the media because they are offspring of the media.
By reporting on these events, the media discursively create these events for those who
have not lived them, and who therefore cannot construct the events themselves. Any
story-line that resembles a previously reported story fits into this known discourse and
makes an easy story to tell. Such is the function of environmental metaphors for the
narrative structure of environmental stories. Metaphors and the story-lines which they
help compose play three important functions:
First of all story-lines have the functional role of facilitating the reduction of the
discursive complexity of a problem and creating possibilities for problem closure.
Secondly, as they are accepted and more and more actors start to use the story-line,
they get a ritual character and give a certain permanence to the debate. They
become 'tropes' or figures of speech that rationalize a specific approach to what
seems to be a coherent problem. Thirdly, story-lines allow different actors to
expand their own understanding and discursive competence of the phenomenon
beyond their own discourse of expertise or experience. In other words, a story-line
provides the narrative that allows the scientist, environmentalist, politician, or
whoever, to illustrate where his or her work fits into the jigsaw. (Hajer 63)
Mass media have to communicate to a larger audience than scientists or government, and
thus need less discipline-specific discourse in order to reach these audiences. Story-lines
reduce this complexity by creating a simplified narrative that non-specialists can follow.
The media, by creating such narratives, allow others to participate who might not know
about the environmental debate or give them discursive access to understanding the
problem. When these other actors contribute to the story-line, they do so based upon
earlier story-lines, and help write new story-lines based upon the same discourse. This
creates a stagnant discourse that seldom changes in any dramatic way, either positively or
Ecospeak and Ecocomposition
Because ecospeak is formed through a larger network of communication, including
speaking, writing, and reading, the associations between these various activities function
much like an ecosystem of discourse. Any discourse spoken by one group is heard,
incorporated or rejected, and then responded to by one or many other groups. The
discourse from those groups affects others, and this results in an adaptive radiation of
discourse. Sidney I. Dobrin and Christian R. Weisser's theories of ecocomposition play
an important part in understanding not only writing about the environment but also
writing within environments.
Earnest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe explain that "objects are never given to us as
mere existential entities; they are always given to us within discursive articulations. ...
Outside of any discursive context objects do not have being; they have only existence"
(82, 85). Kevin Michael DeLuca comments upon this concept, positing that "Of course a
tree exists, but a tree is not just a tree. It is firewood, a god, shelter, a source of food, or
artistic inspiration depending on the discursive context" (147). Echoing these
understandings, Dobrin and Weisser discuss ecocomposition from the viewpoint that all
nature is discursively constructed, and that nature does not exist, or at least not as an a
priori assumption. We create nature through our discursive interactions with the
environment and map, demarcate, and occupy space through the use of language:
"Environment" is (merely) an idea that is created through discourse. This is, of
course, not to suggest that mountains, rivers, oceans, and trees do not actually exist.
Such a suggestion would be pointless and unarguable. What we are suggesting,
though, is that our only access to such things is through discourse, and that it is
through language that we give these things or places meaning: historical, material,
political, personal, natural, spiritual. (11)
Ecospeak, in general, understands this discursive construction of nature, and
Killingsworth and Palmer's diagram in figure 5 represents the discursive spacing and
distance in how groups traditionally understand nature. Ecocomposition can help
understand these relationships and study how these groups create writing about nature,
that is, how they frame their arguments in what Killingsworth and Palmer understand as
ecospeak, and also how the environmental political environment as a whole serves as an
ecological phenomenon that shapes how all actors write nature. Ecocomposition asks
that "in addition to the ideological, cultural contexts in which we have situated writers in
recent times, that we look to physical environments, textual relationships, and the
locations from which language and discourse arises. It asks us to see writing as an
activity of relationships" (Dobrin and Weisser 146).
Perhaps the greatest contribution that a study of ecocomposition can bear upon the
examination of environmental discourse is its ability to strip back the standard discourse
of ecospeak and lead toward a new discourse. In practice, ecocomposition becomes a
tool for activist intellectuals to study public discourse and better engage in public
discussion. Ecocomposition would allow one to better study ecospeak and environmental
discourse in general, and derive a better path to lead the conversation. The recognition
that discourse occurs in public spheres would
... allow us to situate our concerns and voices as part of these larger spheres, and
as such, it might help us to see our disciplinary and institutional boundaries as less
important than our goals. This type of thinking helps to erase territorial battles over
particular academic areas and moves toward creating more inclusive conversations.
Such thinking also allows us to recognize the diverse groups and individuals that
we are connected to. (Dobrin and Weisser 56)
The application of ecocomposition to environmental discourse would include
philosophers, ecologists, compositionists, linguists, educators, and all facets of academia.
Such an application would allow more discourses to enter the public sphere of
environmental debate and create new branches of conversation that would hopefully help
break the hegemonic structure of ecospeak. Of course, ecocomposition would also
provide direction and tools for non-academics to participate, especially those who might
not write within conventional academic discourse, authors who do not, or cannot,
normally participate in the reified structure of ecospeak as I have explained it. By
eliminating those oppressive discursive and rhetorical structures of ecospeak,
ecocomposition can lead toward breaking the "institutional boundaries" currently found
in environmental discourse, and help environmentalists of all discursive practices reach
But beyond composing only in words, ecocomposition can also help us examine
the composition of words with pictures. Although composition studies concerns itself
with teaching writing, it should focus more on how to make images and how to
incorporate images with text, as in courses taught by David Blakesley, Carolyn Handa,
and Gregory L. Ulmer. In recent debates, Ulmer has advanced his theory of "electracy"
by claiming that writing classes in universities can no longer teach students to write only
with words, but must also teach them to write with images because we are moving from a
literate culture into an electorate culture.2 Through its understanding of composition as
ecological, ecocomposition can help us understand how both words and images are
created and positioned according to environment, and how to write images and compose
2 Gregory L. Ulmer. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman, 2003.
A Rhetoric of Ecosee
I have covered these workings of environmental discourse in order to preview some
of the rhetorical devices that ecosee might and might not use in constructing a visual
rhetoric of images. I do not mean to suggest that theories of ecosee must necessarily
evolve out of written and spoken discourse, but that Killingsworth and Palmer's theories
of ecospeak, theories of environmental rhetoric such as Hajer, and Dobrin and Weisser's
theories of ecocomposition provide a basis for how we already understand and make
environmental discourse, and thus provide a transition to a study of the rhetorical devices
used in ecosee. Ecosee shares many of the above features of ecospeak. The same
groups, from political action groups to the media, use the same methods to influence a
viewpoint of nature. From a basic rhetorical standpoint, ecosee uses ethos, pathos, and
logos in similar ways; consider the use of ethos in an appeal from Sylvia Earle. While
Earle has campaigned through much of her career to stop offshore oil drilling in many
parts of the world, in a television advertisement for the oil company Kern-McGee she
now informs television viewers that it can be done safely; consider the portrayal of
factory farming used in such films as A Peaceable Kingdom in their attempts to stop the
practice; consider the rhetoric of science as an appeal to logos, as in documentaries on the
Discovery Channel that depict experts explaining the relative risk of shark attacks. These
are basic examples, but in many ways, the rhetoric of the visual elements of
environmental rhetoric, whether conscious or not of being eco-political arguments, works
similarly to written discourse about such issues.
Like ecospeak, ecosee functions on the local level, using images of local concerns
to communicate environmental issues. Artists create images along parts of Big Pine Key,
Florida that portray friendly-looking endangered Key deer, hoping these images that
recall "Bambi" might convince drivers that they should slow down so as not to cause
another road kill. Along the same highway are trophy fish hanging from marinas-giant
mako sharks and blue marlin-that advertise the charter fishing industry, showing the
abundance of the ocean, the spoils to be taken, and that this environment is open for
business. Traveling along this stretch of US 1, one cannot drive across a single mile
marker of the highway without seeing a message about the environment. Moreover, one
cannot drive across US 1 without seeing the environment either alongside the road as
mangrove trees, or in the water below the bridges as a visual product where one can sight
fish, scuba dive, or sight see through glass bottom boat rides. This environment is an
expected environment, one based upon images of "paradise" already presented by
tourism advertisements and images of tropical locations. Even though the Florida Keys is
not the same hyperreality these images portray, it is expected (literally, looked out for).
As Joy Williams writes, "Nature has become simply a visual form of entertainment, and
it had better look snappy."
These images also pit groups against each other, and all the groups along
Killingsworth and Palmer's continuum find some way to use images of nature. The
Sierra Club adopts the Sierra Nevada skyline; energy companies use environmentalists
like Sylvia Earle to promote their companies and also adopt images of nature such as
seagulls in flight above pristine coral reefs; political campaigns use wolves as analogs for
terrorists. These groups co-opt images of nature to conflate their own image with nature
itself, or portray nature negatively in order to associate it with something they want the
audience to associate with negatively.
Instead of verbal cliches like "tree hugger," standard images become visual
cliches about the environment. Mutated frogs with multiple limbs have become symbols
of environmental poisoning in general, not just in places where frogs occur. The manatee
represents not only the concern for other manatees, but for the entire ecosystem where
they occur, if not for the entire state of Florida. These images become familiar and
standardized in such as way that they become metaphors for environmental problems,
just as Hajer describes the process in environmental discourse. The image of a "tree
hugger" becomes a visual metaphor for the larger story of deforestation. Such images
work because they invoke a known response from public opinion, a response measured
and tested through focus groups and public relations firms. Thus, a single picture can
invoke an entire story, and the media, just as they do ecospeak, reuse these images in a
way that spreads ecosee. The media and other creators of environmental images create
larger story-lines, human-interest stories, about the environment.
As I mentioned, Hajer claims that no other image has dominated environmental
discussions more than the photo of Earth from outer space. As Killingsworth and Palmer
illustrate, Time magazine uses a similar image on the cover of their January 2, 1989
edition, a photograph that illustrates how a single image can create a story-line that has
dominated environmental politics for the last 15 years (figure 2-3). This edition of Time
named its "Person of the Year" for 1988; but instead of a person, Time named the
"Endangered Earth" the "Planet of the Year." The cover photo portrays a beaten "globe
wrapped in polyethylene and rag rope" (157). This image helped spawn a renewed
interest in environmental concerns and showed a shift in the environmental viewpoint of
Time magazine. According to Killingsworth and Palmer, Time "represented a more
conservative political constituency and agenda in the early 1960s" and "sharply criticized
[Rachel] Carson's rhetoric in its 'Science' section" (72). But beginning in the late 1980s,
"Time is doing more than merely reporting the facts; it has taken up overt efforts to
influence future actions," and "the focus of the whole 'Planet of the Year' issue is on
action" (158). Time, as a magazine devoted to both written and photo modes of
journalism, understands the impact of a picture. The use of a picture that resembles the
Apollo photograph is no accident, and the stylization to show the Earth's feeble health is
a clever visual rhetorical construct. This edition of Time includes environmental issues
on a variety of environmental topics, creating a whole story-line with one issue, all
connected to the cover image. Time takes an image, inserts it into the environmental
debate, and shakes the expectations of ecospeak: "Until the summer of 1988 ... Time
remained true to the categories of ecospeak," (152). This creates a new story-line
connected to the Earth, perhaps the greatest interest a human should have in anything:
The human interest slant of the magazine has been extended to a 'whole earth
interest ... by 1989, nature had caught the magazine's interest with a crisis-level
insistence. As the mythic personification of the earth as the goddess Gaia, Time
featured its home planet in a position normally reserved for human subjects. (157)
Although this issue of Time is full of environmental articles, the cover photo impacts
audiences and shows how an image can disturb the normal pathways of ecospeak, and
how environmental images and environmental discourse are connected in an ecology of
rhetoric. Time 's change of perspective also shows the change in Killingsworth and
Palmer's continuum that the media can make, where this "personification of the planet
represents a significant step toward the rights-of-nature approach of deep ecologists,"
(157) and how a single image can represent that change.
Figure 2-3. Time's "Planet of the Year." Cover of the Jan. 2, 1989 edition of Time
magazine. Photo taken from "Cover Archive." Time Online 2004. 14 Dec
Unlike ecospeak, which is limited to political discussions, ecosee is more pervasive
because its images spread in an almost ubiquitous manner, such as on the cover of a
magazine. Often, this environmental stance is hidden or implied, or it becomes a mask
for other arguments that it seeks to make. An advertisement for a chicken sandwich may
seem only a marketing device, but behind that device hides an eco-political argument.
David Orr suggests that "all education is environmental education":
By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are apart of or apart
from the natural world. To teach economics, for example, without reference to the
laws of thermodynamics or those of ecology is to teach a fundamentally important
ecology lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy.
That just happens to be dead wrong. (52)
PLANE-101.''.1 I -11-YEAR
By similar means, all images are environmental images. Chick-fil-A advertisements
that depict cows holding signs that read "Eat Mor Chikin" portray chickens as not
belonging to "nature" proper, but existing within a domesticated group of animals
specifically marked for human consumption. Although Chick-fil-A did not invent the
chicken ("just the chicken sandwich") they depict the proper niche of the chicken (in-
between a bun). In this way, such images present a perception of the world, and show
what is and is not "nature," or how and in what ways nature should be used.
Although I differentiate ecospeak and ecosee for identification purposes, the two
work together in a binary relationship. W. J. T. Mitchell claims in his book Picture
Theory that poetry and painting share a "sisterhood"-ecospeak and ecosee share a
similar relationship. As an imagetext, the two may inform each other, yet they may also
contaminate each other, with ecospeak forcing a discursive construction onto an image,
or ecosee inappropriately infecting a discursive context. However, this imagetext must
remain, since we can only understand nature through language; thus, we can only
understand visual representations of nature through ekphrasis. A study of
ecocomposition in ecosee would consider the connection between the creation of those
images and environment and how elements of ecospeak and written discourse affect the
production of environmental images. As ecocomposition can explore the
interconnectedness of ecospeak, how ecospeak influences the conversation about the
environment and vice versa, and how different physical environments influence the
production of ecospeak, so can ecocomposition inform ecosee. Ecosee thinks not only
about image and nature, but also about the (inter)play between images and text, the
interplay between how physical/imaginary/virtual/hyper environments shape the
production of images, and how these images interact with each other in the sphere of
visual discourse about the environment. Images (and texts) connect in the same way that
the components of an ecosystem connect, and the way that ecosystems connect to form
larger environments. Ecosee is a study of the ecology of images in a particular region
and the ecology of images in the global sphere. Ecosee looks at the use of images across
platforms and agendas, from politics to advertising to education to entertainment, all of
which make up a mediascape of images, and takes into account that the use of images
functions differently across cultures and countries, but that these images come into
contact in a larger ecos(ee)stem3 and affect the way people view nature. Ecocomposition
tells us that environments, "natural, constructed, and even imagined" (Dobrin and
Weisser 6), influence how people compose written discourse; ecosee tells us how people
read images in an environment, and how, in these different environments, people make
(and can make) visual discourse.
3 I am indebted to Sidney I. Dobrin for this term.
ECOSEE AND VISUAL SEMIOTICS
We hope that, in opening the way to a more adequate comprehension of one of the
most important nonverbal languages-namely, visual language-visual semiotics
will bring to it a credibility that can provide a strong balance to the one-
dimensional tendency of the Occidental Logos and, in this way, promote the
development of a more humanistic civilization.
-Fernande Saint-Martin, Semiotics of Visual Language
But the relation of language to painting is an infinite relation. It is not that words
are imperfect, or that, when confronted by the visible, they prove insuperably
inadequate. Neither can be reduced to the other's terms: it is in vain that we say
what we see; what we see never resides in what we say. And it is in vain that we
attempt to show, by the use of images, metaphors, or similes, what we are saying;
the space where they achieve their splendour is not that deployed by our eyes but
that defined by the sequential elements of syntax.
-Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
[S]emiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in
order to lie.
-Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics
While composition, rhetoric, and picture theory can all help to explore theories of
ecosee, visual semiotics necessarily plays a part in how we understand the relationship to
visual signs and their signifieds. Given the nature of the imagetext, one must necessarily
consider how words match up with those images, and if a picture of a tree, and the word
tree, in fact point to the same kind of idea of a tree. We can see a disconnect between the
words we use and the connection the individual letters that make up those words have
with the environment. The English language provides an alphabet composed of
phonograms, but the root of those letters come from ideograms used to represent objects
found in the environment.
L-( J c F v ,. '" ,:' '1 ,' = i ; I : -! ,..
+ VV -. o Y -Y 7 v L 0 I V -,
Figure 3-1. Evolution of the alphabet. This figure illustrates the derivation of the
Phoenician alphabet (second line) from its Proto-Sinaitic origin (first line).
The third line illustrates the Phoenician alphabet in order beginning with the
'aleph, followed by its descendent, the Classical Greek alphabet (omitted are
the letters upsilon, phi, chi, psi, and omega, which were additions to the
Phoenician set). Figure taken from Fradkin, Robert. Evolution ofAlphabets.
10 Feb. 2000. University of Maryland. 5 Mar. 2005.
The letters of the English alphabet derive from their ancestors in Proto-Sinaitic,
Egyptian, Phoenician, and Greek alphabets, and contain latent ideograms that construct
nature in a particular way.1 Consider the evolution of the English alphabet in figure 3-1.
This evolution occurred from a Proto-Sinaitic hieroglyphic system in Egypt, from which
the Phoenicians developed a Semitic alphabet around 1500 BCE. The letter A derives
from the 'aleph, which originally appeared upside down and represented the horned head
of an ox; the letter B, turned on its side, was a dwelling (beth); the letter N, turned again,
developed from the Egyptian hieroglyph nun, or snake; the letter M, mem, was water. Not
only did humans discursively construct their world, but their discourse developed from
that world, which they then used to reassert their will on the world. The ideogram for ox
was probably used by a human to help him record his herd. From its origins, written
language has portrayed nature in terms of pictures and pictures of commodities.
Thus even today, we always have images in our words, whether they are pictures of
snakes or cows. However, many of our words seem so removed from their former
1 Robert Fradkin. Evolution ofAlphabets. 10 Feb. 2000. University of Maryland. 5 Mar. 2005.
existence as ideograms, and given the mass spectacle of the image in society, we should
concentrate on these images in order to decode them and determine their relationships to
things in "reality." The problem is that one can make images that represent things that do
not exist. Consider any science fiction series that portrays images of aliens and
spacecraft: the images exist, but do they have a referent? One could also create images
that present unrealized relationships, such as the picture of a shark attacking a helicopter
(figure 3-2). Perhaps even more problematic, artists can now create living art, such as the
bunny of Eduardo Kac, and create a frankenbunny (figure 3-3). To create his art, Kac
infused the genes that allow a jellyfish (species Aequorea victoria) to glow into the genes
of an albino rabbit. The rabbit, called "Alba," usually appears white, but glows florescent
green when illuminated by the correct light wavelength. Although "naturally" non-
existent, this art is now actualized, real, but what does it represent outside of its artistic
core? Does it have any signified within the world? Science does not yet know of
glowing rabbits outside of Kac's studio/laboratory, yet his rabbit is a (hyper)real rabbit.
In part or whole, generic components of visual semiotics can provide a base for
more specific codes that relate to ecosee. As Goran Sonesson details, visual semiotics is
still unsure as a newly emerging discipline, even more so because it evolves from
disciplines tied to verbal language, such as linguistic semiotics. Fernande Saint-Martin
tell us that
From the first tentative steps toward constructing visual semiotics, it is this specific
linguistic function of visual language which was called into question. This problem
resulted from comparisons between visual structures and those newly discovered
structures of verbal language, constructed as an absolute paradigm for any notion of
language and a model for any semiotics. (x)
While pictures do work differently from text, and have their own form of semiotics as
discussed below, we can only understand pictures through language, at least in a way that
is communicable to others. Moreover, although letters function differently within a
Figure 3-2. Shark attacking helicopter. This picture contains two "real" images
combined with one another to produce a "fake" photograph. Photo taken from
Mikkelson, Barbara and David P. Mikkelson. "Shark Attack." Urban Legends
Reference Pages. 10 Jan. 2005. 5 Mar. 2005.
Figure 3-3. Alba, GFP Bunny. By Eduardo Kac, he considers this rabbit as "transgenic
art." Photo taken from Kac, Eduardo. "GFP Bunny." Eduardo Kac. 5 Mar.
phonetic alphabet, our letters are genetically tied to their original image forms. Although
an entire account of the workings of visual semiotics is beyond the scope of this thesis, I
will examine some specific analytical tools that may help develop theories of ecosee.
Although I will complicate their various means of looking at pictures based upon
critiques by Sonesson, I will look at works by Roland Barthes, Fernande Saint-Martin,
and Steve Baker order to develop some basic concepts that will allow us to examine the
semiotics of ecosee.
Denotation, Connotation, and the Third Meaning
In "Rhetoric of the Image," Roland Barthes makes several claims about pictures
that he develops from his work with semiotic analysis, and shows that several of the
semiotic terms that he uses can apply to images. He applies this analysis to an
advertisement for Panzani (an Italian food company), eventually showing that the various
elements of the advertisement, in themselves and through a combination, connote a sense
of Italianicity, freshness, and abundance about the product. Although Sonesson claims
that Barthes uses the term connotation "to cover a heterogeneous lot of phenomena, only
a few of which would really be connotations" (199), Barthes generally means to explore
the "literal" and "symbolic" meaning in the picture. At a basic level of understanding
ecosee, we can already begin to think of how different images become connotative as
soon as they are depicted. Much of this connotation appears readily in the form of
symbolism, but connotations may be less apparent; images have politics, but these
politics exist beneath the surface of symbols and signs. Signification at the connotative
level is more subversive and elusive.
Barthes also makes an important distinction between connotation and denotation in
photography (at least in how he uses the terms). Barthes claims that a photograph can
never be connotative. My reading of this, in a rhetorical sense, is that one can never
intentionally ascribe a connotative message to a photograph, as one can do within a work
of art or other collage form of the photograph (as Sonesson points out, in logic,
connotation is another term for intention). Barthes claims that
... all images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a 'floating
chain' of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others .. in every
society various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of
signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs; the linguistic
method is one of these techniques. (39)
I will come back to the imagetext as a way to "anchor" images, but a photograph in itself
can be read from any perspective, even if the photographer takes great measures to frame
or compose the shot in a particular way. The use of captions, then, allows the
author/photographer to anchor images to a fixed signified. But a photograph alone has no
rhetorical value in itself because "Denotation, or the appearance of denotation, is
powerless to alter political opinions: no photograph has ever convinced or refuted
anyone" (30). Barthes describes the use of text as a connotative anchor as a "parasitic
message designed to connote the image, to 'quicken' it with one or more second-order
signifieds the image no longer illustrates the words; it is now the words which,
structurally, are parasitic on the image" (25).
Barthes also explores an important concept in "The Third Meaning" that may help
develop how images of nature provide certain rhetorical force beyond any denotative or
connotative meanings. Barthes claims that images work on informational denotativee)
and symbolic connotativee) levels. He combines these two meanings into a single
obvious meaning. To a certain extent, a viewer can obviously see an image, such as a
snake, and know that it is supposed to represent a snake, but also the attributes of evil, the
devil, etc. However, beyond this obvious meaning is an obtuse meaning that exists
beyond language. "The obvious meaning, then, has something to do with disguise" (58).
Within this third meaning exists some message, some concept, but it may exist
subconsciously, or may be purposefully hidden or even overlooked because of its
pervasiveness within the culture. Barthes explains that the obtuse meaning "is not in the
language-system (even that of symbols). Take away the obtuse meaning and
communication and signification still remain, still circulate, still come through: without
it, I can still state and read" (60). The obtuse meaning "is a signifier without a signified"
(61) which makes it so difficult to locate. When I claim that every image can be said to
be an eco-political argument, this might encapsulate the obtuse meaning within ecosee,
where we understand that an advertisement for a chicken sandwich is denotatively a
chicken sandwich and connotatively suggesting that it is delicious, nutritious, and tastes
like chicken, but is disguising the fact that it markets carnivorism as the phagonormative
Semiotic Analysis of Images
Within this system of codes, not every element of nature becomes coded in the
visual. It would be nearly impossible to saturate the visual landscape with images of
every type of flora, fauna, vista, environment; instead, ecosee relies upon a limited
number of image types to express its range of arguments. Given the diversity of species
on the planet, it would be impractical (though conceivably not impossible) to use each
and every animal, plant, and mineral as a distinct and meaningful sign. Even the
Chinese, who use thousands of ideograms as a written language, employ only certain
important plants and animals within their brush paintings. They historically relied on
important plants such as the orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo. The Chinese brush
painters Wang Jia Nan and Cai Xiaoli explain that the bamboo
... has been a leading subject of Chinese painting for centuries, and it is also a
good example of the way in which painting subjects are more than the
representation of a visual or imaginary world. There are more than 280 different
sorts of bamboo in China. It comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, it
flourishes in all types of soil. Its parts are used for building, utensils, papermaking,
and eating. (46)
Here we can see how the Chinese view their particular culture, and thus determine an
appropriate sign for signifying the use of nature and the personal qualities that the
Chinese attach to the bamboo, such as endurance and steadfastness. The Chinese also
paint the plum blossom, whose name (li) refers to both the plant and ethics. By
classifying the world with images, the Chinese created a vocabulary of images in order to
convey ideas about the environment and their relationship to it.
Of course, a country that has no bamboo will use a different tree as a symbol for
strength and endurance, if those qualities are important to the cultures that inhabit the
region. The Chinese are useful to look at because they developed an image-logic system
based upon nature. Since theirs was an agrarian society, they studied nature in order to
survive. However, instead of focusing on the essence of individual components of an
ecosystem, the Chinese understood these components through their relationships with
other elements. By portraying certain elements in a landscape painting, the artist could
suggest something about an individual, for all the relationships that occurred in nature at
the macroscopic level occurred for each person at the microscopic level. Thus, if one
wanted to understand /i, one would study /i, because the relationship that the plum
blossom has to the rest of nature can tell the individual something about ethical behavior.
However, the portrayal of any one element in a landscape painting is unimportant; what
matters is how one subject interacts with all the other elements in a painting. The artist
must not paint a thing but a relationship.
The Chinese perspective of landscapes seems an especially appropriate comparison
for a study of visual semiotics. Fernande Saint-Martin discusses that visual language
must be analyzed according to the scientific methodology of "analysis." Saint-Martin
This analytical method aims at bringing to light the interrelations between
elements-rather than their hypothetical essence-in the totality that is the visual
work. Whether it concerns a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, or an architectural
edifice, the work considered as a totality "does not consist of things but of
relationships," as Hjelmslev has already proposed for the analysis of verbal
Like a landscape painting, or an environment, the individual elements may be important,
but mainly in how they relate to other parts of the landscape. In Chinese painting, one
cannot take away the river without drastically altering the "meaning" of the painting, and
destroying the overall sense of shi. Ecologically, the extinction of a keystone predator
will dramatically change the remaining relationships between animals, irrevocably
changing that ecosystem's ecological destiny. In addition, the genre of landscape can
provide a useful analogy to how we view environmental images and how they combine
and constitute a landscape or ecosystem.
Saint-Martin also suggests that images are composed of a visual grammar. While a
phoneme may constitute the most basic unit of verbal language, Saint-Martin describes
the coloreme as "the most basic unit of visual language a zone of the visual linguistic
field correlated to a concentration of the eyes. It is constituted by a mass of energetic
matter presenting a given set of visual variables" (5). She later lists these "visual
variables" that exist within a coloreme, and groups them into "six distinct categories:
color/tonality, boundaries (which produce form), texture, dimension, vectorality, and
position in the plane" (17). These elements do not exist independently, for as soon as you
paint a dot on the canvas, you simultaneously give it color, dimension, a position, etc.
Within this grammar of the visual, Saint-Martin goes on to explore a possible
syntax. "The syntactic rules of the visual languages are constituted by the set of
operations and functions through which perceptual mechanisms establish interrelations
among the basic elements in diverse visual fields" (65). She explains that coloremes "are
not units that predate the emergence of visual variables, but they are produced by and
transformed coextensively with them." Rather than a linear order, the syntax of the
visual concerns itself more with the interplay and dynamic environment where the visual
elements are found, and how they influence each other. Saint-Martin defines the basic
syntactical rules as follows: 1) rules for regrouping coloremes that include (a) topological
relations, (b) gestaltian relations, and (c) the laws of interaction of colors; 2) rules
"generated by coloremes within the energetic infrastructure proper to each visual
medium"; 3) "modal rules that preside over effects of distance" (68).
Based on this grammar and syntax, Saint- Martin provides a series of steps that one
may use to analyze the image. She describes this analysis as a process that consists of
two main levels. The first level studies the coloremes, what the individual units of the
image are; this step is the "exploratory or colorematic analysis" (193). The second level
looks at how these coloremes are arranged, what their syntax is, how they are grouped to
form meaningful relationships. As Saint-Marie explains:
This form of analysis is derived from the very structure of visual grammar which,
like verbal grammar, is made up of two sections: one dealing with the properties of
the constitutive elements of visual language and the other with the syntactic laws
which specify their interrelations and sequence in possible statements. (193)
These levels of analysis can occur at different structural levels within the image. One can
examine the elements of a small grid of the image, and/or then study the image in its
entirety, just as one can study the sentences of a paragraph, but then study the paragraph,
section, chapter, or book as a whole. Since images of nature say something about the
perception of nature, and since these messages may either compete or correlate, we may
even extend such an analysis to how separate pictures interact with each other within the
larger public sphere.
As Sonesson points out, Saint-Martin limits visual semiotics to "the study of
pictorial art, sculpture, and architecture. This means that she ignores all visual signs
which are not, in our culture, considered to be artistic" ("Visual Semiotics"). Thus, she
overlooks many instances where ecosee may occur, which we might argue, are
everywhere; this includes not only advertisements, commercials, information signs
(although these could be considered artistic) but also other places and spaces where
"nature" is seen, particularly when presented for human consumption such as in zoos,
wildlife parks, or aquaria. A giraffe in a zoo is no longer just a giraffe (if it ever was),
but becomes inscribed with other meanings by being seen within a zoo.
Still, studies of ecosee can use all these various aspects to "read" pictures, though
Sonesson points out that Barthes' "reading" of pictures through an analysis designed for
text becomes problematic. Of course, since we can only understand the image through
language, using semiotics to understand how pictures work seems the first logical step.
So, despite Sonesson's cautions, visual semiotics provides a useful methodology to
explore these relationships, and images of nature and environments employ their own set
of semiotics. Environmental images and their visual language utilize their own type of
alphabet, their own set of symbols that can present a message about nature or tell a story.
This eco-language uses its own semi-limited set of characters to create a meaningful
grammar. However, despite a rough consistency in appearance, just as alphabetic letters
can appear different depending on cursive or script, font face and size, color, etc., so the
"letters" of this visual eco-language appear differently across its usage.
Ecotypes and Econs
Despite the cultural relevancy of certain images, mass media have exported
different environmental images around the world, so that an animal in China, such as the
panda, has become an important eco-political image for the whole world (figure 3-4).
Such images become either ecotypes or e(i)cons.2 Ecotypes resemble archetypes,
categories of animals that may look different from image to image, and may even be
2 Although other terms might be used for what I describe, I have developed these tentative terms for
discussing elements of ecosee. Whether these terms prove useful for others is beyond their purpose here. I
use them in order to differentiate different aspects of the depiction of nature in images.
Figure 3-4. World Wildlife Fund logo. Logo taken from World Wildlife Fund. 2005. 5
different animals within paintings, but serve the same function within those paintings.
For example, images of humpback whales or elephants could be used to portray the
concept of an endangered species. Ecotypes may represent stock definitions from
ecology, and science often uses them as examples. Terms include predator, prey,
consumer, producer, parasite, host, terrestrial, aquatic, etc. Thus, any animal can fulfill
one of these roles and serve as an ecotype in doing so. Econs, such as the panda, provide
instant associations with organizational groups (such as the World Wildlife Fund), ideas,
or movements. Icons from other contexts may even be appropriated by environmental (or
anti-environmental) agents and become a form of econ (fig 3-5).
Ecosee relies on a limited number of animal types to portray nature, and these
types become archetypes, or ecotypes, that can represent similar populations of animals,
or even all of nature. But reducing the available signs from millions of species to perhaps
only thousands (or hundreds) is necessary and even proves useful. In Postmodern
Ecology, Daniel R. White observes
Building on Levi-Strauss's observation that a system is made numerically poorer
but logically richer by subtraction of elements to make the remainder discrete,
Wilden argues, 'the point is, of course, that only systems of discrete components
are available to COVIBINATION and permutation, that is to say, only such systems
can properly by said to have anything equivalent to SYNTAX.' (159)
By selecting a small number of the total species, ecosee can take the "differences
between animals and make them oppositions" It would not prove useful and effective to
create meaningful symbols for three different species of cockroaches, or to create images
of every type of shark. The white shark, especially those used to portray it as a "man-
eating machine" represents, at least for large segments of the public, all sharks. Such an
image provides both an ecotype for the shark, and, in certain cases, may also present an
econ. However, while ecosee might not rely on creating a set of images for every breed
of dog, every breed of dog can be portrayed as a "dog," just as every conceivable way to
write "dog," or just the letter "d" (d, D, A, D, d', d, 0, d, D, ad infinitum) can represent
that word or letter.
(image taken from WorldAnimal Foundation. 2005. 5 Apr. 2005.
(image taken from National Audubon Society. 2005. 5 Apr. 2005.
2005. 5 Apr. 2005.
(image taken from Blue Marlin Chronicles. 2005. 5 Apr. 2005.
Steve Baker, in his book Picturing the Beast, discusses how companies use dogs in
advertising, and that ads use stock types (what I'm suggesting can be identified as
ecotypes) in order to prey upon consumers' expectations:
The dogs most often seen on television-the puppy unrolling the Andrex toilet roll,
the slow-motion Dulux sheepdog, the Crufts champions fed on Pedigree Chum-
are a particular kind of dog. They are never rottweilers or American pit bull terriers
or Japanese tosas; they are, in other words, every bit as stereotyped and 'perfect' as
the people in advertisements. (170)
Even while any breed of dog may portray a dog in general, they are used as just dogs
(albeit "perfect" ones) rather than a particular breed such as border collies, just as the use
of a rat can represent all rodents or a robin all birds; the emphasis is not placed on their
border colliness or robinness, but on their dogness or birdness. However, within this
matrix of animals, types, and referents, certain animals emerge and become econs, like
the panda or the bald eagle.
The bald eagle has served as an icon because of its status as the American national
bird. It becomes the symbol for patriotism or "America" in many contexts in which it
appears, even nature documentaries. The major environmental issue that deals directly
with the bald eagle has been its presence on the endangered species list, and in a way, this
presence ironically symbolizes the United States' concern for environmental issues as a
whole. The image of the bald eagle drips with even more irony when energy companies
appropriate it in their advertisements. Consider an Americans for Balanced Energy
Choices (ABEC) ad that features a bald eagle with the subtitle "1970." The eagle flies
through a polluted sky, lands, hacks on the sooty air, and proclaims: "Not a good day for
flying." The scene then cuts to present day, where the air appears clean, thanks to clean-
burning coal technology developed in part by ABEC (apparently not thanks to the efforts
of the Environmental Protection Agency and other government-run environmental
regulatory agencies developed post-1970). The nested symbolism of both "nature" and
"America" allows this energy company to portray itself as both environmental and
patriotic (important within a new rhetoric of patriotism post-9/11).3 Through an econ, the
energy company can produce the "image" that they care about America and the American
environment. We might call this "the eco-meaning," after Barthes' the third meaning.
Such an appropriation of an environmental image by advertisers shows how the
root for econ (Gk: oikos=home) can often suggest both ecosystem and economy.
Advertising agencies may use environmental images in order to sell their products or
ideas. In Baker's example, a dog food company will use the "perfect" puppy in order to
persuade a potential customer. In general, this applies to other environmental images,
especially well-recognized econs. ABEC does not portray just any bird flying through a
smoggy sky, but the "perfect" bird. Instead of choosing an ecotype, it relies on a specific
econ to convey certain connotations.
Most ecotypes represent what Baker would call "good animals." He claims that
"The image of the bad animal does not exist for advertising" because such an animal
would make the product unappealing to consumers. However, I have to disagree with his
premise under the adage, "the only good bad animal is a dead bad animal." Advertising
often uses bad animals to sell products or services. Consider pest control companies,
whose names imply that certain kinds of animals are undesirable, that reinforce the idea
that nature is something to be controlled by humans. Advertisements for Terminix
portray pests, usually insectan pests, as forces to be destroyed to enforce cleanliness. By
the end of the commercial, these "bad" animals are usually killed, and thus become
3 Also consider the ABEC website (http://www.balancedenergy.org/) that uses visual rhetoric to connote a
sense of environmental friendliness with its multiple shades of green.
"good." The only "good" living pests are animated, highly anthropomorphized roaches,
such as in Raid commercials, which become comical characters. Yet even these pests
are killed by the end of the advertisement, this time by the self-sufficient homeowner.4
However, beyond establishing a dichotomy between animals that are good and bad,
this portrayal of good and bad animals also creates a value judgment of what animals get
to count. By constantly referencing a particular species in an image, one excludes all
other life forms. Thus, focus is given to a particular species continuously, never allowing
another to be seen. Ecosee, perhaps unwittingly, creates visual niches for certain animals
and competitively excludes others. One rarely sees advertisements promoting the
survival of insects unless they are butterflies or some other "cute" and "good" animal.
While environmental efforts and commercial interests have readily adopted cetaceans
into many ad campaigns, only a few are portrayed, such as bottlenose dolphins, orcas,
humpback whales, and occasionally a blue whale. This excludes the other cetacean
species, such as the beluga whale, narwhale, sperm whale and the pilot whale. These last
two examples are featured more often in news reports and literature. The sperm whale,
of course, is the species of Moby Dick, while beached pilot whales frequently appear in
news reports, since they usually gather attention from volunteers who try to help them,
thus creating a human interest story and operating under the guidelines of ecospeak.
However, these two species are poorly represented in images and fail to attain full status
The manatee is one of the most represented econs in the state of Florida, appearing
in billboards, artwork, license plates, navigation signs, souvenirs, etc. The image of the
4 Raid not only allows the homeowner to kill bugs, but to "Kill Bugs Dead."
manatee often illustrates the peril its species faces by focusing on its high potential for
extinction, or by its use as a marketing device; a business can simply appeal to the
audiences who care about manatees, or at least have an interest in them. But images of
manatees also become symbolic of the entire coastal ecosystem. The image of the
manatee can then serve not just as a ubiquitous econ that suggests one species in peril,
but an econ that can represent other endangered species, and also entire ecosystems,
families, classes, ideas, or the entire concept of nature, the world, or life. Imagetexts of
manatees that include an image of the animal with the text "The Real Florida" say
something about how we discursively construct nature, and also about how we econically
construct nature-in this case, Florida. One can simply appropriate an econ with
established environmental storylines, and use that image as a rhetorical device either to
lure in customers, to present the illusion that Florida is somehow "natural," or to suggest
that the state cares so much about manatees that it invests the idea of its state with the
animal's image, even though the state's actual legislative and enforcement practices
might belie this message. In fact, the amount of images of manatees far outnumbers
actual, living manatees, and this preponderance of images suggests not that the species is
endangered but quite the opposite: that the population is healthy and thriving. Viewers
come to know the manatee through the hyperreal, and this perception suggests
hypernumbers of "real" manatees.
Fins to the Left, Fins to the Right: A Case of Econic Synecdoche
In the same way that constant images of the manatees or humpback whales exclude
other members of their families, the inclusion of negative images of a species can prove
detrimental to its survival. Steven Spielberg's film Jaws did not create but solidified the
iconic status of the white shark (Carcharadon carcharias). Subsequent to the film's
release, panicked audiences shied away from the water and elevated the shark's common
name to that of "great" white shark. This happened despite the limited screen time that
the shark actually received in the movie. Jaws provides a good example of animal
"parts" that come to reach iconic status, in a type of iconic synecdoche. The part of the
shark that the audience sees most frequently (and the part that has been copied and
reproduced most often) is not the gaping mouth of the shark (though this feature comes in
at a horrific second) but the dorsal fin, cutting through the water, making a beeline for its
victim (figure 3-6). This fin represents the shark underneath, but also the fear of the
unknown, the fear of what lurks underneath, or even more simply-the fear of death. A
dorsal fin indicates a
Figure 3-6. Dorsal fin of shark. Although this fin would most often elicit fear in humans,
it actually belongs to a basking shark-a harmless filter feeder. Photo taken
from Burton, Dan. "Image Gallery." Florida Museum of Natural History,
Division of Ichthyology. University of Florida. 5 March 2005.
shark, but the fact that we cannot see the rest of the animal perhaps evokes more terror
than when we can see the whole animal approaching. The scene from Jaws that best
demonstrates this occurs when a small boy attaches a reproduced shark fin to his back,
swims under the water, and scares the beachgoers.
The shark's dorsal fin has definitely become an icon for the American public, and
one could attach it to the back of any number of seedy characters in a variety of
occupations (cartoons typically attach them to lawyers, politicians, gamblers, or
gangsters) and create a mood grouping that suggests something about that occupation
(figure 3-7). However, within a theory of ecosee, the shark fin attains econicity because
it embodies two main ways that people see sharks. The most predominant view is that of
the Jaws fin, where the fin represents death by ingestion, a type of death difficult to
accept given our identification with the top of the food chain. The realization that we can
Figure 3-7. "The Lawyer's Club." Image taken from Pritchett, John. "The Lawyer's
Club." Pritchett Cartoons. 5 Mar. 2005.
be food for a shark has prompted considerable panic and has caused various fishermen to
undertake campaigns to eradicate all sharks, or at least to hunt those sharks that have
attacked humans in their area.
In his article "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," Frederic Jameson posits
that the shark in Jaws is inherently polysemous, which makes it particularly useful to
theorize as a visual sign. Some readings of the shark include
... psychoanalytic to historical anxieties about the Other that menaces American
society-whether it be the Communist conspiracy or the Third World-and even to
internal fears about the unreality of daily life in America today, and in particular
the haunting and unmentionable persistence of the organic-of birth, copulation,
and death-which the cellophane society of consumer capitalism desperately
recontains in hospitals and old age homes, and sanitizes by means of a whole
strategy of linguistic euphemisms which enlarge the older, purely sexual ones. ...
Now none of these readings can be said to be wrong or aberrant, but their very
multiplicity suggests that the vocation of the symbol-the killer shark-lies less in
any single message or meaning than in its very capacity to absorb and organize all
of these quite distinct anxieties together. As a symbolic vehicle, then, the shark
must be understood in terms of its essentially polysemous function rather than any
particular content attributable to it by this or that spectator. Yet it is precisely this
polysemousness which is profoundly ideological, insofar as it allows essentially
social and historical anxieties to be folded back into apparently "natural" ones, to
be both expressed and recontained in what looks like a conflict with other forms of
biological existence. (142)
The shark presents anxiety when physically encountered (besides the jaws) because of its
unpredictability-we cannot look at it and frighten it, understand it (as we might a deer,
dog, horse, or other terrestrial animals that humans more regularly encounter), nor can we
always spook it away as we can many species marine life. Although the possibility of
ingestion does create fear, the polysemous nature of the shark creates more anxiety
because we never know the exact essence of the shark. Because of this uncertainty, we
can embody our own fears in the shark; the shark is Steven King's "It."
The second, and by far the minority view, is to see shark fins as representing the
extinction of shark species (figure 3-8). Shark finning involves removing a shark's fins
(pelvic, pectoral, dorsal, anal) and discarding the remaining carcass overboard. Because
shark fins are a delicacy in certain countries, and therefore provide the highest price of
the shark, it is more cost-effective for shark fishermen to merely cut off the fins and
discard the rest of the shark rather than investing the time to prepare it for market.
Within environmental politics, this practice caused (and still causes) huge outcries from
animal rights groups and nearly all shark conservation and preservation groups.5 The fin
presents a symbol of the waste of our natural resources and what shark
T, 1 "
Figure 3-8. Shark fins. These illegally-possessed shark fins were seized by Australian
Fisheries authorities. Photo taken from "Illegal Foreign Fishing." Australian
Fisheries Management Authority. 5 Mar. 2005.
activists consider a barbaric and wasteful action. Such outcries have produced legislation
through congress that has banned such practices in United States waters.6 This probably
accounts for why the image of a shark's fin usually represents something close to "death"
for most people, while it may also represent profit for a shark fisherman, food and
delicacy for a seafood connoisseur, or the waste of capitalist practice for environmental
Just as the fin stands synecdochically for the shark, the white shark becomes a
metonymic image for all sharks, thus excluding other types of sharks from environmental
5 Such groups include Shark Trust (www.sharktrust.org), the IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group
(www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/organizations/ssg.htm), or the American Elasmobranch Society
6 The "Shark Finning Prohibition Act" was signed into law by President Clinton in December, 2000.
Fordham, Sonja. "United States Bans Shark Finning." Shark News. The IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist
Group. 5 Mar. 2005.
images. In addition to images of white sharks, ecosee also uses tiger sharks, hammerhead
sharks, bull sharks, blue sharks, tiger sharks, and other sharkyy" species that elicit a
predictive emotional response of fear. One hardly ever sees images of nurse sharks,
lemon sharks, or basking sharks, creatures that look less like "Jaws." Thus, at the same
time that the shark fin becomes an econ, an image of a shark become an ecotype for all
sharks, or even all threatening and predatory animals (fish, birds, mammals, insects, etc.),
and suggests that all sharks must be nasty creatures. Even if we agree with the
assumption that a few species of sharks might not be pleasant to swim with, it is unethical
to associate other species of sharks, such as the whale shark or basking shark, or other
species of elasmobranchs, such as skates and rays, into the catch-all ecotype represented
by the white shark. Even the behavior of an individual shark may not indicate a
predictable behavior for its whole species. Theories of ecosee must address the ethics of
speciesism, not necessarily as animals relate to humans (although this is one facet) but as
we see species of animals collectively as families, genuses, and species, instead of as
individuals. While we might agree with Levi-Strauss that we make the system of image
codes logically richer by reducing the number of econs and ecotypes, this also allows the
possibility for a few agents to construct those symbols, and thereby determine how those
images represent countless other animal and plant species. While the logic of this system
increases proportionally to the number of species represented, the ethics of this
representation decreases proportionally.
A Catalogue of Econs and Ecotypes
The synecdoche of the shark's fin, and metonymy of all sharks, relates to terms
specifically used in visual semiotics. Baker discusses a metonymy:metaphor opposition
in images, because the two may be used as visual strategies within different images.
Because metaphor and metonymy were first developed as terms within verbal language,
Baker justifies his application of these terms to the visual. He points to E. H. Gombrich's
notion that metaphor develops from "traditional lore," (a lore that includes the verbal and
visual) and Stephen Bann's analysis that the verbal and visual share a "set of rules and
protocols" (88). Based on these distinctions, Baker claims that since they "constitute the
area from which rhetorical structures can be said to be drawn, then it is indeed reasonable
in principle to speak of a visual rhetoric" (88). By looking at metaphor as a rhetorical
construct in images, we can begin to look at the relationship between images and the
things they symbolize. This also gets us back to Barthes' understanding of denotative
and connotative meanings in images. A picture of a bald eagle in a field guide may
simply be taken for its denotative, non-metaphorical meaning, although a picture on the
cover of the book may be taken as metonymic for all the birds in the book. The eagle in
the ABEC advertisement, however, is metaphoric because it evokes nature, America,
patriotism and a host of other possible connotations. However, although these strategies
may appear within an image, a metaphorical meaning may be so pervasive within a
culture that it exists only to reify itself and to condition acceptance. As I will discuss
later, a picture of a steak may seem simply to denote a steak, but it connotes an
acceptance of nature as something to "use," that it is "natural" to eat cows, and argues
against other eco-political positions that would claim consuming animals is unethical.
The eagle, manatee, humpback whale, and white shark all serve as econs for
various purposes. Because they represent patriotism, the Everglades, the ocean deep, or a
primordial fear, these animals have symbolic status. However, as we have seen, one can
easily appropriate one of these icons that seem to have a fairly static "message" toward
many other intended uses. While rodents may appear as "bad" animals in pest
commercials, Baker, looking at Mickey Mouse, points out that "just about anything will
do as a national animal symbol." Baker goes on to say that "the symbolism itself is
seldom very clearly defined, and it is open to manipulation: it is a rough-and-ready
symbolism. It is in no way hindered by the fact that its meanings need owe nothing to the
characteristics of the animals it employs" (62). Just about any animal can serve as any
kind of symbol, and while this may be true as a culture develops, within a temporal
"snapshot" of a particular culture, dominant symbolism will be attached to some animals
and not others. Ecosee should develop a portfolio of these econs, with which one can
then compare the different (mis)uses of these animals in visual media. Baker, discussing
the specific use of animals as national symbols, sees both positive and negative aspects to
such a catalogue:
With potentially negative connotations crowding in on all sides, the animal looks in
retrospect to be among the least secure images for carrying messages about human
identity. Given the character of many of those messages, this may be no bad thing.
But there is a more positive aspect to the examples. They show nations having
chosen to depict not only other or rival nations but also theine/'e, in the
animal form, or else to define themselves by means of an identification with
animals. There is thus a certain equilibrium, or balance of power, in the
distribution and operation of these symbols. They serve to remind us that the
cliched notion that our culture always sees animals as inferior need not simply be
taken for granted .. Even if... these supposedly positive animal images have
been drained of much of their animality, they are still the culture's chosen
iconography. It is too easy to forget this, or else to give insufficient consideration
to its significance. (69-71)
Although Baker is correct in seeing positive aspects in this "balance of power," this
equilibrium requires that we question those animals that we do consider inferior to
humans, and how that becomes displayed within images. If all elements of "nature" are
required for its survival and sustainability, how can any part of that system be "bad"?
This catalogue of econs, this exclusion of some animals as we have already
mentioned, points toward both a cannon of images that "may" be consumed by the public
sphere, and also a system of indexicality as it is used in visual semiotics. While the
indexicality of signs can be difficult to explain, Keyan G. Tomaselli says it most
The index draws attention to the thing which it refers. For example, a weathercock
is an indicator of wind direction. The sign draws attention to the existence of the
unseen-it has an existential relationship to the phenomenon it depicts. Wind
cannot be seen except in a secondary way through indicators like a weathercock,
vane, a wet index finger or some other indicator, like a tree bending in the direction
of the airflow. (30)
These indexical signs allow us to see the unseen. In this sense, we might say that all
econs, all ecotypes, display a form of indexicality since they all refer to the concept of
nature. Lyotard states that "To every realism, it can be answered that no one can see
'reality' properly called" (33). I would say that no one can see "nature" properly called,
and its existence must constantly be proven through the use of indexical signs, signs that
have thus far operated according to the semiotic rules of ecosee. While general rules of
visual semiotics may aid us in deciphering the rules of ecosee, the study of the ecology of
signs that visually construct nature can also help us determine the specific sub-set of
visual semiotics that pertains precisely to ecosee. As Killingsworth and Palmer explored
ecospeak through its specific use of rhetoric, we can explore ecosee through its unique
use of visual semiotics.
ECOSEE AND PICTURE THEORY
But then people have always known, at least since Moses denounced the Golden
Calf, that images were dangerous, that they can captivate the onlooker and steal the
-W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory
While Ecospeak discusses the rhetorical use of written and oral language in
constructing arguments about the environment, I have offered ecosee as a way to
understand images in constructing arguments and identities of nature. To do so, I have
looked at environmental rhetoric to suggest various textual rhetoric and discourses, and
the ways that visual semiotics might inform how images of animals and other natural
images might work individually and collectively. However, ecosee cannot be understood
only in terms of images, but must also be considered in terms of the relationship between
image and text-how the two interact with each other by informing, conflicting, and
contaminating each other in the Barthesian sense. For the purposes of exploring the
various elements of the imagetext, I will look primarily at W. J. T Mitchell's Picture
In addition to visual semiotics, W. J. T. Mitchell's Picture Theory provides a useful
critical eye for looking at pictures. Specifically, Mitchell's analysis of the relationship
between word and image provides a starting point for understanding the interaction
between ecospeak and ecosee, which we might correlate to verbal and visual theories of
environmental discourses. Mitchell claims that he does not want to develop a "picture
theory" so much as "to picture theory as a practical activity in the formation of
representations" (6). Similarly, ecosee functions not just as a nominative term, but a
verb, a way of seeing ecologically. One who ecosees looks at images not just for their
environmental focus and how they represent the environment, but also how that image
fits into the larger ecosystem of images and texts. Ecosee asks how an image interacts
with other images and texts, how it shapes them, and how it is shaped by them.1
While we might try to understand images alone, that is, without attaching to them
an external language that exists outside of the image frame, to do so would be
problematic and might also be unethical. Images rarely occur without any connection to
text, and practical experience tells us that within our culture of communication, one must
understand both media to make sense of the constant images that clamor for attention. In
writing Picture Theory, Mitchell explains that
One polemical claim of Picture Theory is that the interaction of pictures and texts
is constitutive of representation as such: all media are mixed media, and all
representations are heterogeneous; there are no "purely" visual or verbal arts,
though the impulse to purify media is one of the central utopian gestures of
Mitchell points out the relationship that images and text have, the "sisterhood" that binds
them as familial. This relationship extends to theories of ecosee, as I hope I have shown,
where we must understand both how images of environments work and also the lingual
"messages" that might lie behind those images. Given a postmodern world where media
mix and become heterogeneous representations, we might also look at this world in terms
of Jean Baudrillard's theories of hyperreality, and recognize that we might not be seeing
what we are really seeing.2 In defense of his work, Mitchell goes on to claim that
1 Just as the discourse of ecology provides a tool for scientists to study the relationships in an ecosystem,
ecosee provides a tool to understand how images function with an ecos(ee)stem.
2 See Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor, MI: U of
Michigan P, 1994.
For anyone who is skeptical about the need for/to picture theory, I simply ask them
to reflect on the commonplace notion that we live in a culture of images, a society
of the spectacle, a world of semblances and simulacra. We are surrounded by
pictures; we have an abundance of theories about them, but it doesn't seem to do us
any good. Knowing what pictures are doing, understanding them, doesn't seem
necessarily to give us power over them. (6)
In looking at environmental images specifically, I hope that others can develop theories
about them, and at least help us understand how we visually and imagetextually represent
nature, places, spaces, and environments. While this may not allow us to change our
relationship to the image, to give people a power of the image, at least it provides a place
Ecosee and Ecospeak: A Sisterhood
As I have suggested earlier, one method of exploring the logic of environmental
images, at least as rhetorical constructs, is through the study of environmental rhetoric
and where the two might intersect. Mitchell provides a useful way to understand this
relationship, seeing the two not as distinct entities but as related. Mitchell posits that
writing and speech might "have the same sort of 'sisterhood' as painting and poetry-a
sisterhood of radical inequality, as Lessing and Burke argued-if writing transforms
invisible sounds into a visible language" (116-117). Just as writing/speech and
painting/poetry form sisterhoods, so image/text forms a sisterhood. The problem with
this relationship is that writers often want their text to be visual without the image. But
as we are moving into a culture where images become the dominant visual experience,
text must find some other niche in this relationship.
Still, we can understand ecosee and ecospeak as sharing a sisterhood within
environmental rhetoric. If ecosee becomes the dominant form of environmental debate
over ecospeak, then people must begin to recognize that the debate is taking place. One
way to make this apparent, at least at first, is to describe images to people in familiar
terms; one must couch the visual debate within language, and that language is the
language of environmental politics. While this may seem limiting at first, viewers must
recognize that images are making these same kinds of arguments before they can further
understand and accept or reject those arguments. The method that one might use to
explain images is through Mitchell's understanding of ekphrasis.
In his most simplistic description of the term, Mitchell defines ekphrasis as "the
verbal representation of visual representation" (152). This is where the verbal sister is
"mobilized to put language at the service of vision" (153). Ekphrasis provides the verbal
expression of the visual because the only way that we can understand the visual is
through language. This makes ekphrasis especially suited for a study of ecosee, for like
the visual, the only way we can understand "nature" is through discourse. As I discussed
in the introduction, not only do we typically engage "nature" through the visual, but we
can also use the same method to discursively construct both nature and image. While
image and text share a sisterhood, nature and image also share an affinity.3
Mitchell begins to complicate the nature of ekphrasis, and we begin to see that it is
not just the mere description of an image that occurs but also the site of rhetorical
conflict. According to Mitchell, the "central goal of ekphrastic hope might be called 'the
overcoming of otherness'" (156). Language attempts to deal with its visual sibling by
discursively constructing it in a certain way that makes this image into language's "own
3 This affinity might also exist as an identity, if nature is thought of as itself an image. Park developers
arrange and present the image of nature in deliberate ways. Zoos contain exhibits and "habitats" designed
to give the viewer the expectation of an image of an animal's native environment. This expectation creates
a hyperreal image of nature, one that negates any real difference between an image of nature as photograph
and the "real" on site experience (read viewing) of nature.
image." However, this leads toward the "ekphrastic fear" that a breakdown will occur
between image and language; images should properly be mute, and language should be
without image-the writer should not attempt to produce a painting with words. Mitchell
discusses Gotthold Lessing's ekphrastic fear, his
... fear of literary emulation of the visual arts is not only of muteness or loss of
eloquence, but of castration .... The obverse of ekphrasis, "giving voice to the
mute art object," is similarly denounced by Lessing as an invitation to idolatry:
"superstition loaded the [statues of] gods with symbols" (that is, with arbitrary,
quasi-verbal signs expressing ideas) and made them "objects of worship" rather
than what they properly should be-beautiful, mute, spatial objects of visual
This discursive construction of an image, the application of arbitrary signs and meaning
onto the visual, corresponds to how humans discursively construct nature. I'm not
suggesting that "nature" should be a visual site that should be "beautiful, mute,"
untouched, and available only for viewing, but that other meanings of nature, as a
resource, as "wilderness," or as other constructions made throughout history, are equally
problematic as any other act of "idolatry." Just as language attempts to reconcile the
"otherness" of the image, language also attempts to deal with the "otherness" of nature.
And although nature and the image share a similar relationship to language, we now see
that image attempts to focus on the "otherness" of nature as well.
However, ekphrasis cannot hope to overcome "otherness" unless that otherness is a
fixed entity. Mitchell argues in Iconography and Picture Theory that the scientific
categories of otherness (symbolic and iconic representations; conventional and natural
signs; temporal and spatial modes; visual and aural media) (156) do not stay within these
categories, and "are neither stable nor scientific" (157). Better understood as
ideologemes, these categories are "allegories of power and value disguised as a neutral
metalanguage. Their engagement with relations of otherness or alterity is, of course, not
determined systematically or a priori, but in specific contexts of pragmatic application"
(157). As an other, the visual presents a passive site of receptivity, where we may insert
our own discourse in order to understand and verbally represent it. "Nature" as "mother"
or resource provides this same opportunity as a passive receptacle for language, and
images of nature are open to the same practice. The application of ekphrastic practice to
either nature or visual representations of nature will depend upon the contexts of how
people view nature and their pragmatic goals in discursively constructing nature in a
Thus, image and language are forever tied when representing nature, for even if one
uses image to represent nature, one must ultimately understand that image in terms of
language. "Like the masses, the colonized, the powerless and voiceless everywhere,
visual representation cannot represent itself; it must be represented by discourse" (157).
In this statement, Mitchell points out the problem with images and nature: nature and
images cannot talk back, they cannot engage in their own discourse. Images become sites
of oppression just like colonized people, and in a further example he compares images to
the child that "should be seen and not heard." This proverb
... reinforces a stereotypical relation, not just between adults and children, but
between the freedom to speak and see and the injunction to remain silent and
available for observation. That is why this kind of wisdom is transferable from
children to women to colonized subjects to works of art to characterizations of
visual representation itself. (162)
I would include nature in this description as well. Here we see the ethical implications of
representing "other" through both language and images, and the implications for
representing those visual representations with further textual representations. Here the
ethics of power come into play.
The ekphrasis of images, the verbal drawing of images, is where the power struggle
occurs in environmental politics, or for that matter, in any attempt to assign identity to an
image. Since a picture is "silent" and cannot speak for itself, active agents can shape that
image's identity and determine for the image what it will "say" to an audience. The verb
"say" is an important term, because as Mitchell explains, images become speech acts, and
can "say" things just as well as words:
The moral here is that, from a semantic point of view, from the standpoint of
referring, expressing intentions and producing effects in a viewer/listener, there is
no essential difference between texts and images and thus no gap between the
media to be overcome by any special ekphrastic strategies. Language can stand in
for depiction and depiction can stand in for language because communicative,
expressive acts, narration, argument, description, exposition and other so-called
"speech acts" are not medium-specific, are not "proper" to some medium or other.
I can make a promise or threaten with a visual sign as eloquently as with an
utterance. While it's true that Western painting isn't generally used to perform
these sorts of speech acts, there is no warrant for concluding that they could never
do so, or that pictures more generally cannot be used to say just about anything.
Ecosee, and theories of electracy as developed by Greg Ulmer, would suggest that our
culture is moving increasingly toward a rhetoric of images, where most communicative
acts occur through visual media. However, those that control what the images "say," the
pictorial manipulators that give picture/speech acts their illocutionary force and
perlocutionary effects, are hegemonic structures that are able to determine what gets
shown. Often, the messages given to images cater to our expectations, create
expectations, and prey upon these expectations to advance commercial consumption.
Thus, a hegemony exists that portrays "nature" in way that becomes accepted and
presents expected norms of how nature really "is." These ubiquitous images inundate the
perception of nature, found in television, billboards, movies, the internet, fashion and
clothing, or video games, and create a hyperrealized state of nature. Moreover, these
images are so pervasive and transparent that they are overlooked and numbing, making
one less inclined to public or private action.
Theories of ecosee would attempt to make these identities of nature more apparent
to audiences, who can choose for themselves how they might understand nature. While
part of this goal involves using visual semiotics and other logics of the image, another
facet involves the rhetorical conventions in which those images work. Although many
different rhetorical approaches exist when using images, environmental images typically
fall within the rhetorical categories defined by Killingsworth and Palmer in Ecospeak.
Various groups with various eco-political viewpoints use and/or create images in
advertisements and marketing campaigns that create pairs of opposites, adversaries, in the
same way that journalism can create storylines that create characters for environmental
debates. Ulmer claims that electracy "is to digital media what literacy is to print" (xii).
We might say that ecosee is a subset of electracy, and should make people electorate to
images of nature and help them identify these debates within images.
An Imagetext: What's the Beef?
Figure 4-1 depicts an advertisement for Certified Angus Beef, in which a picture
of a steak is juxtaposed with the words "What Vegetarians Eat When They Cheat."
Marketing agencies frequently employ opposition, placing the product they represent
against an opposing product. Most laundry detergent advertisements use this technique.
However, in this ad, this steak is placed against an ideology rather than another consumer
product. One might say that the steak opposes vegetables or non-meat foods, but this
reading might suggest that those who eat steak should only eat meat. Instead, this
advertisement creates an antagonistic relationship between those who eat meat and those
who do not through the visual violence of its image. The ad suggests several ideas about
an a priori nature in man through the simple image of a steak and its juxtaposition with
the text. In this way, the ad becomes an eco-political argument about the use of nature.
Even if a grilled steak did not connote this argument, the text anchors and contaminates
the image with added, overdetermined messages: steak is a "natural" food; vegetarians
have adopted an "unnatural" lifestyle, one that's difficult to maintain; thus, they have to
cheat every now and then in order to stay on this diet; this is not a question of if, but
when; that the natural place of animal is on the table, and we might be suspicious of
anyone who doesn't agree, especially dishonest people who "cheat." We might continue
different readings ad nauseum, but the point is this: a simple imagetext meant to sell steak
raises important ethical implications for how we as a society view nature, and how we
relate to others who do not share these views. Instead of merely showing the steak with
their brand underneath, Certified Angus Beef "outs" vegetarians with this ad, suggesting
that they are already part of an undesirable, subversive sub-culture, and therefore must be
exposed. The ad attempts to make their private eating habits public. It accomplishes this
through an image that would most effectively make a carnivore's mouth water, or an
herbivore vomit: a grilled chunk of flesh.
When one looks at this advertisement, what makes one buy into the use of an
imagetext to sell this product? Why shouldn't one understand the message just as well
from the mere representation of a steak rather than from its combination with words?
Generally, why might we need to understand images in terms of their corresponding text?
Why shouldn't we be able to look at this steak, or any other image, and understand the
Figure 4-1. Steak: "What Vegetarians Eat When They Cheat." Advertisement by
Certified Angus Beef, a few miles north of Ocala, Florida. Photo by the
message inherent in the picture? Along the same highway, fast-food restaurants like
McDonalds can display a billboard of a Big Mac with no other text than "Exit 68."
While I would argue that this still presents a similar kind of argument as Certified Angus
Beef, the denotative use of text in the latter's ad has a more parasitic function because
we do not automatically view a generic picture of a steak as the specific logo portrayed in
the golden arches or a Big Mac. Unlike the steak, the logo carries a cultural familiarity
that already links it to convenience, capitalism, and/or product. Mitchell points out that
One lesson of general semiotics, then, is that there is, semantically speaking (that
is, in the pragmatics of communication, symbolic behavior, expression,
signification) no essential difference between texts and images; the other lesson is
that there are important differences between visual and verbal media at the level of
sign-types, forms, materials of representation, and the institutional traditions. The
mystery is why we have this urge to treat the medium as if it were the message,
why we make the obvious, practical differences between these two media into
metaphysical opposition which seem to control our communicative acts, and
which then have to be overcome with utopian fantasies like ekphrasis. (161)
Presupplied text reduces the ability of an individual to rename the text's corresponding
image. This is Barthes' anchor that fixes the image. This might derive from our
Western-developed metaphysics, where we seek to name and categorize based upon a
thing's essence. Most people who visit a museum, either of art or natural history, never
question the validity of the informational text that stands next to a Greek sculpture, or
doubt the legitimacy of a scientific name next to a stuffed specimen. While experts may
appear later with new and conflicting data, thereby reclassifying the sculpture as
Egyptian instead of Greek, or the specimen as really a kind of bird instead of dinosaur,
the average visitor simply accepts the validity of the imagetext and accepts this
classification system. Ecosee asks people not to accept that validity, to question it at
every moment, and perhaps to adopt a classification more oriental than occidental. As
mentioned earlier, the Chinese classified nature in terms of relationships and states of
becoming, not of being. While I'm not suggesting we toss off all our Western clothes,
this Eastern viewpoint provides a more ecological perspective that is conducive to
understanding the relationship between image, text, and how images relate to each other
as a whole.
While the Certified Angus Beef advertisement may appear to think in terms of
relationships (that we can understand vegetarians based upon their relationship to food),
it reinforces the idea of the essence of steak (and therefore cows) as food. The
relationship it evokes creates a type of story-line, as discussed earlier by Hajer. This
discussion of ethics relates back to Mitchell's notions of semiotics in the imagetext. To
answer the questions raised earlier, he posits that
A phenomenological answer would start, I suppose, from a basic relationship of the
self (as a speaking and seeing subject) and the other (a seen and silent object). It
isn't just that the text/image difference "resembles" the relation of self and other,
but that the most basic pictures of epistemological and ethical encounters
(knowledge of objects, acknowledgement of subjects) involve optical/discursive
figures of knowledge and power that are embedded in essentialized categories like
"the visual" and "the verbal. ." It is as if we have a metapicture of the image/text
encounter, in which the word and the image are not abstractions or general classes,
but concrete figures, characters in a drama, stereotypes in a Manichean allegory or
interlocutors in a complex dialogue. (162)
Mitchell devotes one of his chapters in Picture Theory to metapictures, or "pictures that
refer to themselves or to other pictures, pictures that are used to show what a picture is"
(35). Mitchell notes three ways that pictures can serve as metapictures: formal self-
reference, or the picture that represents itself; generically self-referential, the picture that
represents a class; and discursive or contextual self-reference, so that "its reflexivity
depends upon its insertion into a reflection on the nature of visual representation" (56).
According to Mitchell, this means "any picture or visible mark no matter how simple ...
is capable of becoming a metapicture." Of the kinds of metapictures that any mark may
become, two of Mitchell's categories are more useful for theorizing about ecosee:
dialectical images and talking metapictures.
Mitchell defines dialectical images as pictures "whose primary function is to
illustrate the co-existence of contrary or simply different readings in the single image, a
phenomenon sometimes called 'multistability'" (45). These images are multistable
because a viewer can look at them and deduce at least two or more objects from the same
picture. The example that Mitchell examines most closely is the picture of the "duck-
rabbit" (figure 4-2). He states that this image, "arguably one of the most famous
multistable metapictures in modem psychology, is traceable to this anxiety about the
fixation of discourse on certain images, especially pictures of/in the mind, visual
analogies, etc" (50). I'm interested in the duck-rabbit for this reason, but also because of
what it might suggest about how we view animals. The duck-rabbit is self-referential
because it makes the viewer constantly question whether it thinks of the picture as a duck
or a rabbit, and often causes the viewer to ultimately accept both as viable options. The
picture accomplishes this because of two conditions described by Mitchell: "(1) it is a
weak or peripheral hypericon; it doesn't serve as a model of the mind, for instance, but as
a kind of decoy or bait to attract the mind, to flush it out of hiding; (2) its central 'effect'
is at odds with the stabilization of an image to be 'taken in at a glance and easily held in
the mind"' (50).
.-t -- .. _,_ --
Figure 4-2. Metapicture of the Duck-Rabbit. Image taken from "Duck-Rabbit." Vassar
College. 5 Mar. 2005.
However, Mitchell's discussion about the duck-rabbit is interesting not just because
it deals with an animal, or is animalistic in nature (the "wildness of the metapicture
includes "its resistance to domestication, and its associations with primitivism, savagery,
and animal behavior" 57) but because it brings up the question about interpretation in
general, and interpretation of nature in particular. While the duck-rabbit picture could
represent either a duck or a rabbit, images of nature have various interpretations. An
image of a dog could be seen as a pet to one audience, or supper to another; interpretation
all comes back to how one discursively constructs nature, and how nature contributes to
discursively constructing one's subjectivity. However, while environmental images may
seem to be inherently multistable, the advertisement for the steak shows us they are not.
Images of nature often show us nature as an object, something to be used, and reify the
dominant ideological concept of "what" nature is, rather than providing alternative
viewpoints or trying to change opinion. While this attempt at change does happen in
some environmental images, this is hardly the norm (a billboard along interstate 95 in
Jacksonville, Florida depicts the eyes of an animal with the text, "More to See, More to
Zoo"). Even if the viewer decides that he or she sees both a duck and a rabbit, the image
must be concerned with the next cognitive steps: what does it mean? Mitchell claims that
the duck-rabbit was the "ideal hypericon for Wittgenstein because it cannot explain
anything (it remains always to be explained)" (50). Does the viewer explain the duck-
rabbit as a part of nature, food items, objects of sport, or a combination of the three? If
these images are always left to be explained, then who determines the explanation?
While this lack of agency on the part of the picture might be a good thing, allowing the
viewer to discursively construct the image himself or herself, this becomes more of a
problem whenever the image is combined with text. While the picture of the steak might
offer more questions left by itself, the statement "what vegetarians eat when they cheat"
denies the viewer their own agency in knowing the steak.
The Certified Angus Beef advertisement portrays not a dialectical image but a
talking metapicture. Mitchell points out that we might consider this a "cheating"
metapicture, because it uses words to achieve self-referentiality. These kinds of pictures
concern themselves not with speaking about themselves, how they convey "the way we
speak of pictures and the way pictures 'speak' to us" (66). In this capacity, these pictures
become important because they show us the relationship between the image and text, and
how they impart meaning and representation to each other.
The steak ad becomes a metapicture to the extent that its text refers back to the
image; specifically, the relative pronoun "what" points back to its antecedent, the image
of the steak. We see a power struggle in the steak ad, where it tries to reinforce the
dominant viewpoint toward animals, and thus reconstitute their power over a vegetarian
sub-culture. The beef industry does not assert their power because of the loss of market
share to small vegetarian and vegan markets, but to reinforce a worldview that "sees"
animals as parts of nature to use. The steak ad as an eco-political argument does not
attempt to reach out to these smaller markets but instead attempts to revitalize the beef
industry's base, making people choose sides between the dominant culture of carnivores
and omnivores, and the misunderstood, suspect culture of vegetarians. The ad reinforces
how people "know" their food, and discursively constructs vegetarians as "cheats" who
cannot even adhere to their core beliefs.
In a way, imagetexts in general already function according to some of the rhetorical
constructs of ecospeak. Image and text become factions that can join together to create
common messages, or they can work against each other to create conflict. The imagetext
of the steak advertisement communicates that beef is good and non-beefeaters are
suspect, for it is "what's for dinner" and "real food for real people."4 But Mitchell's
answer rightly points out that while the rhetorical devices found in ecospeak also exist in
ecosee, the very mechanics of speaking and seeing alter their effects and the interaction
between the two communicative partners. In ecospeak, two debaters may answer and
attack one another with varying levels of discourse, adapt during the communicative
4 This is an ad slogan produced by the Cattleman's Beef Board. In a less controversial advertisement, the
CBB have adopted an imagetext that reads "We love vegetarians: more beef for us." Although these
companies compete, their ads work together to reinforce a phagonormative lifestyle. "Beef: It's what's for
Dinner." Cattleman's Beef Board. 5 Mar. 2005.
event, perhaps change the other's opinion, and advance their agenda. With an
environmental image, little adaptation occurs, and both partners of the "conversation,"
the image and the viewer, are placed in doubly-passive positions. The image has no
power to change itself from what it is, and can only be seen; the viewer has no way to
change the image, though perhaps his/her perspective of it, but even this "seeing" is a
passive activity, where the eye simply becomes a receptacle for penetrating light. Within
an oral debate or a written argument, writers can respond to each other and engage in a
textual discussion. But how does one respond to a picture? Moreover, as long as nature
is presented in images, the viewer is always the subject, the image always the object,
even when images engage in speech acts. This objectivity can easily be transferred to the
"real," which is never allowed to achieve a state of subjectivity. Even images that
present animals positively portray them as objects, as animals that need human
protection, and can never obtain their own agency. While animal activists try to help
animals, they only advance their own idea of nature, often a patronizing position of
humans as stewards of nature.
This dilemma makes the ethical question of representation in ecosee more pressing.
If the viewer of an image cannot change that image and the image cannot change itself,
theories of ecosee must provide ways to recognize the third and fourth meanings of an
image and/or allow readers/viewers to determine/construct that meaning for themselves.
In writing Ecospeak, one of Killingsworth and Palmer's main goals is to establish a study
of rhetoric that is useful for both students of rhetoric and for the politically active
scientists or other individuals who might wish to alter public discourse though a praxis of
ecospeak theory. While I do not feel that theory must necessarily lead to immediate
practical use, theories of ecosee should help individuals recognize the conventional
rhetorical devices and their intended effects, who can therefore accept or reject those
meanings, or, once recognized, construct their own images of nature. As Mitchell puts it,
"perhaps we have moved into an era when the point about pictures is not just to interpret
them, but to change them" (369).
CONCLUSION: SOME ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ECOSEE
The center post was cut all the way through. The outer posts were each cut more
than two thirds through. The great sign rested mostly on its own weight,
precariously balanced. Bonnie placed her small brown hands against the lower
edge of the sign, above her head, barely within her reach, and leaned. The
billboard-some five tons of steel, wood, paint, bolts and nuts-gave a little groan
of protest and began to heel over. A rush of air, then the thundering collision of
billboard with earth, the boom of metal, the rack and wrench of ruptured bolts, a
mushroom cloud of dust, nothing more. The indifferent traffic raced by, unseeing,
-Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang
To come back to Mitchell's suggestion, how does one change images? This
passage from Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang shows one way: sabotage. In
this scene, two of the book's many protagonists, Dr. Sarvis and Bonnie Abbzug, destroy a
billboard that says:
MOUNTAIN VIEW RANCHETTE ESTATES
TOMORROW'S NEW WAY OF LIVING TODAY!
Horizon Land & Development Corp.
Within their effort to destroy all billboards, we see a contestation over who gets to
occupy the spaces and places called "nature." At the same time that this billboard offers
the commodification of seeing mountains, it also occupies a place in the world that has
been designated a place for advertising and is itself a thing meant to be seen. Those who
control the space to place a billboard are those who get to say, or get to show, what nature
is. Dr. Sarvis and Bonnie feel ethically bound to reoccupy this space for what they call
"nature," and to exclude billboards from the image of nature that drivers see out of their
car windows-to let nature "speak" for itself.
However, while I'm not suggesting (mainly for legal reasons) that anyone change
images through illegal destruction, Abbey does point to the problem of (not) seeing
ecologically. Although my example of the "steak" billboard offers certain eco-political
arguments, most people probably drive by it "unseeing, uncaring, untouched." Because
these images pervade our roads, television, computers, magazines, books, and
newspapers, we become numb and indifferent to the obtuse meanings that they contain.
While many obtuse meanings may exist, every image has an obtuse meaning concerned
with "nature." Of course, like the steak, many of these images do not reflect a
preconceived idea of nature as a priori, a "nature" which I suggest, along with theorists of
nature such as Sidney I. Dobrin and Christian R. Weisser, does not even exist. Or, as
Lyotard asserts, "The ontological argument is false. Nothing can be said about reality
that does not presuppose it" (32).
Through the writings of Jorges Luis Borges, Sonesson discusses the a priori
perspective that cultures often assume when picturing nature. Although cultures such as
the Chinese depict the bamboo that spreads throughout their region, other cultures
overlook such obvious, daily encounters. In his discussion of Borges, titled "Why there
are no camels in the Koran. The world taken for Granted," Sonesson extrapolates on
Borges' point that the authors of the Koran felt no need to write about camels:
The total absence of camels in the Koran shows, according to Borges, the
authenticity of the text: although from the horizon of Occidental culture, the camel
seems characteristic of the Arabic world, the Arab simply takes it for granted, and
so does not bother to mention it. (30)
From this reading we might ask why the images of nature appear as they do. What
elements of "nature" are not taken for granted, and are then overrepresented? If these
elements are overrepresented, is this because of concerns about endangered habitats or
animals, or because their "place" in nature must be continually reified in order to uphold
the normative view of nature? If images of manatees constantly appear throughout
Florida, are these images somehow less authentic of the "real Florida" despite their claim
to the contrary?
In a very "real" sense, this study of ecosee assumes that it functions within a realm
of postmodernism, where nothing can be defined, and that "nature" as we typically think
of it does not exist. That is, we cannot take nature as a priori, but we construct it
according to our current understanding of nature, how it operates and how we use it. This
might chagrin some scholars, such as Michael E. Soule and Gary Lease, who write
against postmodernizing the environment, but to claim that nature does not exist does not
preclude us from studying it or deny that environmental problems exist.1 For
environmental problems stem directly from this discursive construction, and so exist hand
in hand with nature as a discursive construction. As Hajer notes, this understanding is
based on representations; as I argue, these representations have been largely analyzed
through written or spoken discourse, not visual. This needs to change.
The environmental crisis that began in the late 1960s prompted artists to begin
creating pictures, paintings, and sculptures that represented the earth and this
environmental ethic. In .ipming Ground: Transformed Views of the American
1 In particular, I am thinking of N. Katherine Hayles' article, "Searching for Common Ground," in which
she claims that a deconstructionist paradigm of nature would destroy environmentalism and asks the
question, "If nature is only a social and discursive construction, why fight hard to preserve it?" (47).
Landscape, Rhonda Lane Howard writes a commentary for an art exhibition held at the
Henry Art Gallery from February 10-August 20, 2000, where she discusses this trend in
The desire to return to the simplicities of nature and the concern surrounding
environmental damage prompted multiple reactions from artists, reactions that
continue into the twenty-first century. Working during the time when these
environmental catastrophes and concerns first came to the fore were earth artists,
also known as site artists, land artists, and environmental artists. Earth artists,
concerned with the environment, embraced the planet itself as their medium.
Of course, making new images is not the same as changing them, and even these
environmental works of art present a certain view of nature. However, if we agree with
Saint-Martin's visual semiotic structure, and agree that perspective is an important part,
then perhaps we can at least alter this one variable. But to alter perception, we must first
get people to perceive.
Although theories of ecosee need not be practiced, getting people to perceive, to
pay attention to the billboards along the highway, is the challenge of a praxis of ecosee
theory. I have pointed to three fields of study in this paper-environmental rhetoric in
ecospeak, some components of visual semiotics, and picture theory-in order to establish
a heuretic device that might inform how these fields function with a study of images of
nature, and how those images are appropriated or manipulated within structures of
argument. While images may not work according to standard forms of argumentation
(deliberative, forensic, deictic), a study of environmental rhetoric allows us to see what
the arguments already are into which these images become inserted. I believe theories of
ecosee will develop somewhere out of the intertext of these disciplines.
Ecospeak was published at the brink of a new environmental movement. The early
1990s saw a renewed anti-environmental movement among corporations, which began to
apply their public relation resources to environmental issues. With the entrance of public
relations firms, whose very business is rhetoric, Killingsworth and Palmer's analysis of
ecospeak could not have appeared at a better time. We now find ourselves in another
backlash, where visual media play an ever-increasing role as we move from a literate to
an electorate culture. While electracy does not exclude literacy, we must develop a logic
of how we see eco, not just how we speak it. The ethics of ecosee exist to the extent that
they allow people to make practical decisions in their day-to-day lives, to see obtuse
meanings within any image, and to understand how that image relates to all other images.
However, ecosee should also consider practical decisions that not only affect the
viewer, but the impact that the viewer will then have on his relationships with the world.
When an image portrays a white shark as a "monstrous, eating machine," it does so
irresponsibly because this portrayal fails to take into account (or purposefully takes into
account) the fact that people will fish out and destroy sharks at large. In his chapter "The
Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses" in Simulation and Simulacra, Jean Baudrillard
discusses that science attempts to make animals say that they are not animals:
Animals must be made to say that they are not animals, that bestiality, savagery-
with what these terms imply of unintelligibility, radical strangeness to reason-do
not exist, but on the contrary the most bestial behaviors, in the most singular, the
most abnormal are resolved in science, in physiological mechanisms, in cerebral
connections, etc. Bestiality, and its principle of uncertainty, must be killed in
Images of animals also attempt to make them say that they are not animals, or that they
are more than animal. When this bestiality cannot be erased or the uncertainty cannot be
fixed with text, then the image makes them into the econ of the white shark, which
influences people to destroy them. The shark is no longer an animal, but the hyperreal
equivalent of death, no less than an image of the grim reaper.
Ultimately, we have to pay attention to pictures because they short-circuit critical
reason and influence how people behave toward each other and toward the earth with
very little thought about this behavior.2 I have already discussed through Mitchell that
pictures can influence other pictures, and that words and pictures can influence each
other. Using an analogy (apropos of the context here) to illuminate the interplay between
artistic invention and social pressures in the development of the genre of caricatures, E.
H. Gombrich posits:
I have sometimes been tempted to compare this interplay of forces to the influence
of the environment on the various forms of life. Biologists use the term ecological
niche to describe the environment that favours a particular species of plant or
animal. What is characteristic about these situations is again the constant
interaction between the factors involved. The rainforests of Brazil could only have
developed in a tropical climate, but they are known to influence the climate in their
Our notion of environment and nature could only have developed within a culture of
seeing and understanding nature in terms of pictures, yet those pictures have direct
material effects on how we treat nature. Perhaps Mitchell is right. We need to change
pictures of nature if we hope to change (or not change) "nature" itself.
I began this paper by discussing Killingsworth and Palmer's Ecospeak in an
attempt to establish some general rules for environmental discourse and rhetoric. In their
epilogue, these authors discuss the practical implications for their work, and the necessity
to develop new kinds of discourses, new audiences, new authors, and new conversations
in order to break the discourse of ecospeak and actually create change. To do so, new
rhetoric will need to transgress "boundaries of discourse communities," and develop
2 Ulmer writes that the photograph, or image, can "stimulate involuntary personal memory" (44) in a way
that text cannot, and thus bypasses the ability to critically interpret the image because it plays on emotion
rather than reason. This involuntary response most often happens from the third meaning of the image, a
level of meaning that "the literate apparatus was not suited to exploit fully" (45).
"new personae," including these "new kinds of authors and audiences (real and ideal)"
(279). As they posit:
The social-epistemological and rhetorical adjustment we face is in every way
comparable to the cognitive adjustment required to appreciate Stephen Schneider's
joke: "Nowadays everybody is doing something about the weather, but nobody is
talking about it." (280)
Although we still need to pay attention to ecospeak, and focus on ways to change the
rhetoric and conversations of environmental politics, we should be more concerned about
those images and visual rhetoric that comprise ecosee, about which nobody is talking or
doing anything about. Mitchell discusses the important role that a picture theory should
play by asking the question: "What is our responsibility toward these representations?"
(424). He responds:
To begin with, we must see them as related to one another and to us. Although
some of them may be "beyond our control," they are certainly not outside our field.
In the case of the political correctness campaign, it is precisely our field that is in
question. The new legitimations of racism and sexism are mediated by
representations about which we have considerable expertise. And the
representation of war and mass destruction in narratives that simultaneously erase
the memory of Vietnam and replace it with a fantasy replay of World War II should
activate our responsibilities as preservers of the historical record and of cultural
memory. In short, though we probably cannot change the world, we can continue
to describe it critically and interpret it accurately. In a time of global
misrepresentation, disinformation, and systematic mendacity, that may be the moral
equivalent of intervention. (424-425)
As much as English departments have concerned themselves with the world-making
projects of combating racism, sexism, and war, it should concern itself with the world as
a whole, with "nature," the concept of which has been used to rationalize and defend the
existence of all three, and continues to do so. Although theories of ecosee probably
cannot change the ontological conception of "nature," it can at least help change the way
we see it. While I do not necessarily agree that we can interpret nature "accurately," we
can at least point out how ecosee might misrepresent, disinform, and systematically
construct the globe to others who just assume that camels and nature exist. Since this
"disinformation" occurs mostly at the obtuse meaning of pictures, and since ekphrasis
provides the chief means of extracting that meaning, we should strive for Plato's goal of
his poetics within the poetics of ecosee. Again, citing Lyotard: "The canonical phrase of
Plato's poetics would be in sum: I deceive you the least possible" (22).
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Sean Morey was born in Okinawa, Japan, and grew up in Sugarloaf Key, Florida,
and the Florida Backcountry. He graduated from Key West High School in 1998, and
received his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida in 2002 and in
classical studies in 2003. Currently, he is a teaching assistant at the University of Florida,
where he will start his Ph.D. in fall 2005. Sean will continue to work on theories of
ecosee, fish for an elusive grand slam, and train for the Tour de France.