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The Art of Persuasion. Emblems and Propaganda offers a diverse collection of articles that explore how the symbolism of emblems and emblematic combinations of words and images have historically been used for persuasive, rhetorical, and propagandistic ends. Each of the four sections of the book offers a selection of revised papers presented at the Society of Emblem Studies' Ninth International Conference at the University of Glasgow in 2011. Section one focuses on "The Art of War", followed by "Religious Persuasion", "Propaganda, Advertising, Dissemination" and finally "Modern Propaganda". While the majority of the articles adhere to an established tradition of hermeneutics that prioritizes the emblem itself by referencing historical antecedents of particular combinations of image and text, readers may be interested in several unique approaches to emblematic forms, which delve into new territory of media studies and affect.
An example of the traditional form of emblem analysis appears in Donato Mansueto's "Ars Gemina", which focuses on representations of the art of war in the 16th century. For Mansueto, war appeared not only through bloody battles, but also in the practical use of political communication, specifically the dual role of speech and image to secretly conceal and boldly reveal. Mansueto argues through an analysis of representations of the fox and lion, the Minotaur and centaur, and cut poppy flowers, that the polyvalent emblem's esoteric combination of symbolic images and shrouded speech utilized "a gap between the few who know and the one's who cannot know" (22). In this way, the noble prince of the 16th century - whether Erasmus' religious or Machiavelli's secular prince - must lead with force and guile, epitomized by the secrecy of the emblem. Though there is nothing wrong with this fascinating interpretation, it is just that: one reading among many other possible semiotic combinations.
In section two, "Religious Persuasion", Alison Saunders approaches propaganda from both a gendered and a religious perspective by tracing the little known history of individual emblems created and collected for the canonization of the Jesuit-educated François de Sales in 1661. By comparing an assorted collection of emblematic miniatures from the Maggs Bros Rare Book collection with Adrien Gambart's La vie symbolique (1664), Saunders hypothesizes that the collection was possibly made by cloistered women from a Visitandine convent around the same time as Gambart's emblem book and later assembled into a common collection. Rather than exact replicas of Gambart's emblems, the miniatures take popular Jesuit images and religious phrases and provide their own, unique flair. Unfortunately, the lack of historical information in which to situate these emblematic images forces Saunders to create a framework to fit her particular hermeneutic method, whereby the author offers a detailed analysis of a fictional history, which "may very probably have been produced by inmates of one or other of the Visitandine convents" (99). Similar over-readings occur by McCall Probes and Barbarics-Hermanik, though the sources that attracted their attention - 16th century French emblems and 18th century Ottoman printing - still shine through.
In the final two sections, "Propaganda, Advertising, and Dissemination" and "Modern Propaganda", several eclectic articles span both geographic and temporal borders to focus on the medium of communication as much as the symbolism of the images and texts. Sabine Mödersheim describes Laterna Magica in the United States from the 18th and19th centuries. To conclude the collection, Valérie Hayaert examines the power of symbols in the role of Tunisia's 2011 popular uprising. By focusing briefly on Mödersheim's "magic lanterns" or elaborate hand painted slides projected onto a wall or smoke, and Hayaert's "Grammaire tunisienne", one can see the changing contours of emblem studies away from a hermeneutics of the emblematic signs to the medium and context in which the emblem appears.
By analyzing emblematic lanterns, where most of the images used in the slides are not taken from emblem books, Mödersheim effectively cuts off traditional forms of emblem studies, while at the same time opening new avenues for analyzing media of communication. These lantern mechanism and accompanying slides are a neutral medium used simultaneously by 18th and 19th century religious groups, entertainers and secret Masonic societies. Following the great emblems scholars of the 1980s and 1990s, Mödersheim's article marks a shift away from a hermeneutics of image and text to a description of rituals and the cultural contexts in which various media circulate. She concludes her essay with a quasi-challenge to emblem scholars and argues that "[i]f we are looking for evidence of how the emblematic mode and emblematic imagery survived in popular visual culture well into the 19th and 20th centuries, we should add the popular lantern show as the multi-media mass medium of entertainment, education and propaganda of the Victoria era to our list" (163).
As if accepting this challenge, an even further step away from traditional emblem studies appears in Valérie Hayaert's "Grammaire tunisienne", where the author juxtaposes traditional studies of the Renaissance emblem with emblematic forms that appeared in Tunisia in 2011. The gulf in perceptual habits, particular and global cultural movements, and rapid pace of new media all lead the author to question the practice of applying methods used to study 16th century emblems to today's world. "Are comparisons, analogies or correspondences of any kind relevant at all" (187)? Instead, Hayaert proposes a redefinition of the emblem not as a form but a process, thereby introducing a theory of affect into emblem studies. Such a move fits well within contemporary shifts toward affect and reader response as well as avoiding difficulties 20th century scholars have in defining what an emblem actually is. In the 16th century, the form of the emblem shifted from manuscript to typography, thus allowing alternate combinations of speech, text, and image, which in turn effected and was affected by social changes. Such a shift in perspective removes the emblem from focus and places the context in which the emblematic form appears in the center of analysis. In 21st century Tunisia, digital technologies - chief of which being mass and social media - allowed for a new vitality of heraldic and emblematic devices (such as digital flags and text messaging) in a revolution against the authoritative regime of Tunisian president Zin el abidin Ben Ali. However, rather than provide a hermeneutics of defaced flags, Facebook pages, and text messages, the author highlights that, "the accent is being placed on viewers' affects and the possibility of its [heraldic device] being duplicated endlessly by the copy-and-paste key of a computer" (200).
With a wealth of images spanning the 16th through the 21st centuries from Tunisian, German, Polish, Swedish, Ottoman, North American, French, English, Italian, Spanish, and Danish sources, this collection of articles takes seriously the task of emblem scholars to reinvigorate historically relevant emblems with new attention. Whether the shift away from the emblem to other theories of analysis - namely media and affect - can be called a disciplinary divide is too soon to tell. However, the articles that focus on the situatedness of the emblematic device, rather than over-interpreting the emblem itself, elucidate new possibilities for the study of the concepts of propaganda and rhetoric while providing thoughtful reading.
Jameson Kismet Bell