Bill Long 12/19/04
Speaking and Writing Visually
I have long thought that speech and writing which creates pictures is the most powerful form of communication. John Calvin recognized this and wrote about it. Thus, in Book IV of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, when discussing the Lord's Supper, he said that we are sensual creatures but that God has thus deigned to give us physical signs of His love through the bread and wine in the holy meal. Thus, our need for visual images is rooted in our nature and accommodated by God.
The word hypotyposis is generally not even found in unabridged dictionaries but does appear in histoical rhetorical treatises. A modern definition of it is given by Professor Burton: (derived from the Greek meaning "to sketch") "lively description of action, event, person, condition, passion, etc. used for creating the illusion of reality." I don't know why he has added the last clause; it suffices to say that it is a vivid description. A much more familiar rhetorical term synonymous with hypotiposis is enargia, which is the general term meaning vividness of description. Greek terms abound for various specific kinds of description, such as the description of portrayal of a person and his natural propensities (ethopoeia), a historical time or era (chronographia), an action (pragmatographia), a particular region (chorographia) or the "likeness of a person" by imagery (icon).
Indeed, Peacham, in his 1577 Garden of Eloquence, one of the first rhetorical treatises in the English language, likens hypotiposis to icon.
"Hypotiposis, like unto icon, a description of persona, things, places, and time; and it is, when by a diligent gathering together of circumstances, we express & set forth a thing so plainly that it seemeth rather painted in tables than expressed with words, and the hearer shall rather think he see it than hear it." The goal of hypotiposis is "that the hearer shall think he doth plainly behold him."
This then is the device--it paints in "tables" rather than "words" so that the hearer thinks he "see" it rather than "hear" it. A tall order this is.
Our Human Need
So, we live for vivid word pictures almost as much as we long for apt cliches. This is not all bad. Because of the infinite complexity of life, we long for devices that summarize, characterize or typify a general trait. We look for the "typical" case of X in order to elucidate the phenomenon of X. So, we look for word pictures to characterize a phenomenon.
But we also want word pictures for a contrary reason: to capture uniqueness. Skillfully-drawn word pictures help us see character, pierce the heart, understand ourselves as we seek to understand someone else. Thus, the power of well-crafted visual language is that it helps us understand both the typicality and the uniqueness of someone or something.
Pictorial Language and the Law
When I began to study law in 1996, I really was not clear in my own mind how important word pictures were to me as I communicated. But early on I recalled how important visual speech was to me. I read hundreds of appellate law cases, where law was often described clearly, but sometimes also in the most tortured prose. What was lacking, however, was any attempt to be literary in the construction of sentences or pictorial in the use of words. Maybe judges just weren't able to write polished prose, I thought. Maybe they were looking at words like architects looked at builidings in the 1970s-- just make 'em functional so that people can work in them. After all, they were just deciding cases, not writing War and Peace.
But then, as I began to study law, I saw picture after picture, mostly in old cases and the common law tradition, that I wanted to spend the afternoon thinking about. But I also wanted to get very high grades (which I did) so that I could land a job in the most prestigious law firm in the state. So, I put the pictorial study of law aside for several years, while I tried to "make it" in law. Now that there is no chance of that ever happening, I am free to return to my pictures.
Go on to the next page to learn some of these pictures.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long