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Carol Berkenkotter (USA)


Carol Berkenkotter[i] is professor in Rhetoric and Communication at the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. Her research interests range from genre theory and genre analysis, to the rhetoric of science; disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity; qualitative methodology; and cultural/historical approaches to literacy. She has recently published a book together with Tom Huckin, entitled Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power (1995), and is currently working on a second book, entitled Psychiatry's Rhetorics, on the rhetoric of the psychiatric classification.


Carol's contribution to this present volume builds mainly on this latter work, and is entitled Capturing Insanity: The Wedding of Photography and Physiognomy in the Nineteenth Century Medical Journal Article. Here she examines in depth how photography was first used in a, then, innovative way in Great Britain in the mid 1800’s to support and illustrate psychiatric case reports, and also rather disturbingly, how the lack of the possibility of direct reproduction of photographs in printed publications at the time contributed to changing the way in which women patients were visually represented in the final versions of these reports. In one of the interesting cases mentioned in her article, a young working-class woman reportedly suffering from a condition diagnosed as ‘religious melancholy’, appears in her photograph as a person to whom we as viewers can relate – she is portrayed as an open person with a slightly quizzical, even assertive gaze into the camera. In the lithograph used in the publication, however, she is gazing at the floor, or perhaps a table where there is a small pile of books on which she is resting her arm (the books do not appear in the original photograph), seemingly complete absorbed in her own melancholic world, with no possibility of relationship with the viewer.


What for me was most interesting about this particular example, quite apart from the fact that it raises interesting issues about the effects of the different technologies (photography, writing and lithography) on the representation of insanity (the theme of the article), is that it forces us to consider to what degree the lithographic representation was designed to be an intentional manipulation of the ‘reality’ of the image of the person that was represented in the photograph. Given that the lithograph most likely was an commissioned piece of work, what instructions were given to the lithographer, and why? Was it adapted to support more forcefully the image intended to be presented in the written text? Was the idea to turn the person represented into a ‘standard’ rather than ‘exemplary’ model (apropos Anne Freadman’s discussion mentioned above). Like all good examples, also this one certainly seems to raise a lot more interesting questions for writing researchers than those one is initially prompted to consider in one given type of textual context.


[i] Carol Berkenkotter’s homepage is at: http://www.hu.mtu.edu/~cberken/index.html, and she may be contacted by e-mail at: <cberken@mtu.edu>

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