VL 1 preface
2012. június 23. szombat, 14:26
Preface (András Benedek)

My conversations with Kristóf Nyíri on the new challenges facing teaching and learning in today’s rapidly changing world, with its deeply transformed spatial and temporal relations, form the years-long prehistory of the present volume.
From the very beginning visuality was our keyword. Contemporary visual technology – film, video, interactive digital media – is promoting, but also demanding, a radically new approach to learning: the age of visual learning has begun.
This is especially true for tertiary-level education, for it is here that, on the one hand, teachers for the entire school system are trained, and on the other hand, education and research meet. For let us make no mistake: visual learning is not merely an option, it is a necessary correlate of the way in which science and scholarship today develop. Research increasingly relies on imaging technologies and computer animations – and the results of such research cannot be disseminated, cannot be published, without including, digitally, the moving image. You have to have a sophisticated understanding of images if you want to understand what is happening in science.
It was these conversations that led, in October 2009, to our establishing, at the Department of Technical Education, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the Visual Learning Lab (VLL – http://vll.mpt.bme.hu), actually a research seminar with regular monthly meetings. Turning to research of this kind was very much in the tradition of the Department, where methods of atypical learning (and, since 2001 or so, in particular methods of learning based on mobile communications, “m-learning”), had for quite some time been actively studied. Let me here recall some of the first talks given and topics discussed in the framework of VLL. The speaker at the very first meeting was Kurt Röttgers, Professor of Philosophy at FernUniversität Hagen (Germany), at the time visiting professor at our Department. His memorable talk, on “Visual Learning and the Invisible”, warned of over-simplification – warned of myopia, if you like – when it comes to the visual. As he put it: “Media and the medium of visual communication and learning are the middle; but that does not mean that the middle is something substantial. It is a relation in which many things can occur in a mixture which has to remain an everlasting experiment of making experiences. Its structure is more like dancing than going step by step.”
Our second meeting was really an introductory discussion to the topic which, as I alluded to above already, is perhaps the most central one from our specific perspective: visual learning at the tertiary level. Preparing for that meeting we made our acquaintance with an important volume, Visual Practices Across the University, ed. by James Elkins, published in 2007. I think it is fitting for me here to quote the very first passage of that volume: “This is an experimental book. It is an attempt to think about images beyond the familiar confines of fine art, and even beyond the broadening interests of the new field of visual studies. Outside of painting, sculpture, and architecture, and outside of television, advertising, film, and other mass media, what kinds of images do people care about? It turns out that images are being made and discussed in dozens of fields, throughout the university and well beyond the humanities. Some fields, such as biochemistry and astronomy, are image-obsessed; others think and work through images.” The third meeting of the research seminar, in December 2009, was again on a topic we knew would accompany us for the rest of the time: the general topic of film, on this occasion introduced by Hungarian film critic Anikó Gorácz. The film she chose to discuss was Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, an animated documentary, providing an extraordinary multi-modal experience of language spoken (Hebrew), written (we watched a version with English subtitles), animated images, and live-action documentary footage. Then in January 2010 came a talk by Anna Győrfi on “Visual Thinking and Neurodiversity”, stressing that “the required abilities and criteria for school success in mainstream education are one-sided, [are] very much language and text-centered, leaving little room for the demonstration and improvement of other talents such as visual-spatial, musical or bodily-kinestic skills. Those who are facing difficulties in acquiring fluent reading and writing (i.e. dyslexic individuals), become ‘disabled’ in education, whereas outside school they often prove to be highly intelligent, creative and successful.” I am concluding these recollections with mentioning the May 2010 talk by Petra Aczél, on visual rhetoric, pointing to the “ubiquity of images” and their “importance in the dissemination and reception of ideas, information, opinions”, but also to the fact that of course it is something very ancient that makes its reappearance here, since “these are the processes that lie at the heart of all rhetorical practices”. Aczél also gave a talk at the first international conference we organized in the framework of the Visual Learning Lab, on December 1, 2010, and is the author of one of the chapters in the present volume.
It is this volume I am now turning to.
At the 2010 conference altogether 21 papers were presented, with submissions having passed a blind peer-review process. The finished papers again underwent blind peer-reviewing. Ultimately, the volume consists of fourteen edited chapters.
The first piece in the chain of chapters, the essay by Biljana Radić-Bojanić, amounts to a felicitious introduction to some of the main topics of the volume. Language is essentially metaphoric, metaphor and imagery are intertwined, images might be identical where languages differ: foreign language learning, as the experiments of Radić-Bojanić show, is made easier, and more conscious, when students are encouraged to reflect on the visual bases of the new metaphors they encounter. The theme visualization and foreign language learning is at the centre of the second chapter as well, with Franz Dotter and Marlene Hilzensauer presenting the method, and discussing the theoretical background, of an online
course they developed for teaching English to deaf adults without any prior knowledge of English, their method intrinsically depending on the pictorial, and, in particular, on the moving image – on animated pictures. The moving body’s capability for making the invisible cognitive architecture of grammar visible and meaningful by using special iconic, deictic and metaphoric gestures is demonstrated and analyzed, in the third chapter, by Jean-Rémi Lapaire. Besides drawing on conceptual metaphor theory, Lapaire is very much inspired by Rudolf Arnheim’s work on visual thinking, as is also the author of the next chapter, Kristóf Nyíri. What Nyíri attempts to show is that some specific metaphors, and, more generally, some specific figures of thought, the latter defined as mediating between the motor, the visual, and the verbal, do not just structure (as conceptual metaphor theory maintains), but indeed depict, reality. Written by one of the leading exponents of conceptual metaphor theory, Zoltán Kövecses, the fifth chapter introduces the concept of “context-induced metaphors”, suggesting that
context can have a priming effect on (metaphorical) conceptualization, giving rise, in particular, to imagistic metaphors, with the context that most clearly produces visual metaphors being the immediate physical setting. The next chapter, by Mikkel Haaheim, elaborates a theory of “processive perceptual metaphor”, in reference to, and distinction from, “conceptual metaphor”. Haaheim detects essential parallels between the processing of visual information on the one hand, and metaphor-related language processing on the other, arguing that the same cognitive phenomena are involved in both cases.
With the seventh chapter, written by Petra Aczél, the volume moves beyond metaphor theory in the narrower sense into the domain where the art of metaphor has always played an absolutely encompassing role: the domain of rhetoric. What Aczél however shows is that, precisely from the point of view of the visual, both the theory and the practice of rhetoric today undergo a fundamental metamorphosis. Rhetorical speech is invariably rooted in the pictorial; with the iconic turn in rhetoric, with the rise of visual rhetoric, those roots now become visible, and come alive more than ever. The eighth chapter, by Gabriella Németh, offers, from the perspective of visual rhetorics, an empirical analysis of an array of billboard images, striving to establish a typology of visual rhetorical figures. Billboard images are the topic of the next chapter, too, written by Anna Szlávi. Examining Hungarian billboards and their portrayal of women as gendered representations, Szlávi discovers a strange metamorphosis when content turns into form: the women depicted are invariably beautiful, healthy, and young, even when the products advertised are explicitly targeted at those lacking in those very qualities. The metamorphoses Ágnes Veszelszki analyzes, in the tenth chapter of this volume, are the ones that profile pictures on social networking websites undergo on their road from the real to the virtual. In uploading our profile pictures we practice a form of impression management: we make an intuitive effort to manipulate others’ opinion of us. Gábor Bencsik, in the next chapter, describes the metamorphosis of the humanities in this age of an overwhelming abundance of pictures, a metamorphosis very recent, and found by Bencsik far from being sufficiently radical. His main concern is with historiography, so slow to discover the image as a historical source. With Zsuzsanna Kondor’s chapter the volume enters the domain of philosophy. Is Heidegger’s criticism in his 1938 paper, “The Age of the World Picture”, Kondor asks, directed against pictures, or rather against a certain mode of philosophizing? Did, with Merleau-Ponty, that mode of philosophizing actually change? And what does contemporary research on embodiment, say as represented by conceptual metaphor theorist Mark Johnson, add to the change? Merleau-
Ponty figures in the next chapter, too, written by John Mullarkey, as does, also, Heidegger – the latter’s most abstract concepts actually as possible, or impossible, objects of animated films. Starting out from the 2010 film Temple Grandin and from Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures, and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, Mullarkey goes on to examine the general issue of how pictures, in particular moving pictures, fail, or perhaps do not fail, to represent logical relations – drawing also on his own pathbreaking book Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality, and quoting some pertinent passages from the last chapter in the present volume, that written by Dieter Mersch.
The chapter by Mersch, on the logic of the iconic, is a detailed philosophical examination of the manifest differences, but also possible parallels, between saying and showing, and especially of the dizzying and dazzling epistemological issues surrounding the simple act of pointing at something – the primordial act of visual teaching/learning.
Let me conclude by coming back to Kristóf Nyíri, and thanking him, in his capacity as my co-editor, for the careful copy-editing of the chapters of this volume, as well as for seeing the volume through the press.

August 2011