In response to John Walter's response on Machina Memorialis, I've been exploring a little more my own ambivalences about the use of images in FYC. (It's relevant, I suppose, that although several of the blogs I regularly read beautifully use photographs--bgblogging and writing as jo(e) come to mind--this blog of mine is resolutely image-free.) I'll stick, first, fairly close to his points, trying on some contrary positions just for fun, then wander further afield...
I'm interested in John's point that images were historically tied to words in meaning-making and that "composition sans image is deeply roots in and tied to print culture [...] and this move to banish the image from serious texts in fairly new." I'm interested as well in the neat sort of turn by which digital media have brought the image back into play (I hope I'm not mis-stating his point...) But I don't quite understand how images played such a role pre-Gutenberg, when virtually all of the poetry-drama-fiction- philosophy-history -whatever texts I've read and that we ask high school and college students to read are indeed exclusively word-based. Were images stripped away from these texts at some point in the modern typesetting process? These early texts were distributed and preserved via recitation (aural memory) and manuscript. Were the images in illustrated manuscripts produced by the authors of the texts or the manuscript-copiers, or doesn't that matter? What do we know about the actual composition of these early works? To be flippant, is there evidence that Plato sketched out a floorplan to think his way through to Allegory of the Cave? (To anticipate my next point, I'm taking "image" here in the above to mean graphic image, that is, picture, since I don't see how aural/manuscript/print/digital culture issue affects either mental or verbal images.)
I'm bothered by the commingling of mental, verbal, and graphic images. They seem qualitatively different to me in the processes of thinking and writing and reading. I am reminded of a post I wrote a few years ago on Words and thoughts, and I'll repeat the quote from Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct:
That is, it seems to me that thought can take place pre-verbally, in the form of mental images, or even more amorphously, something like sensations, hints, intimations. My sense of my own thoughts is not I am producing and listening to a constantly streaming inner monologue, but that "things" flicker past without my having the chance or wanting to take the time to verbalize them. But to capture these images (for my own examination or to communicate them to others) I have to attach words to them (or make them manifest in some other medium, oil paint, say). This is a necessary (I think) part of the critical thinking process and largely what we mean by the process of composition, to grab hold of these mental images and embody them in words.
Verbal images, associated with the poetic, seem to me something like what I'd call concrete details (words that refer to and create sensory images) and figurative language. The split that John identifies between poetic and rational discourses is tragic, in my view, resulting in the depersonalized, hyper-abstract, jargon-ridden forms of academic discourse that make my skin crawl. There are people I guess who aspire to write this way, but I'm not one of them (hence no Ph.D for me) and I don't take it as my mission in FYC to create such writers. I concede that for certain technical writing aimed at a specialized audience the poetic may be appropriately "purged" from the rational; for my money, though, in general terms, for a general audience "good writing" requires these verbal images, not merely as stylistic flourishes but for clarity's sake as well.
So we have mental images integral really to the process of thought and verbal images a requirement for effective writing. For me, graphic images are a different sort of creature. Helpful in some contexts (maps of troop movements in Civil War battles--that is, for showing spatial relationships; bar graphs, pie charts, and other mathematico-statistical representations--that is, for summarizing data and depicting quantitative and qualitative relationships; photographs of people, places, things--that is, for presenting a version of apparently unmediated reality and thus short-cutting the need for physical description) but--here's the important thing--these graphic images are basically optional conveniences. Maybe. (I'm talking here about the use of graphic images within a text; as an aid to invention they seem potentially more useful. A side note: I am not a fan of the graphic novel, though perhaps I should give them more of a chance...)