site where we might expect a challenge to the non-visual nature
of academic writing is, of course, the Web. Academic journals are
now proliferating on the web; as of February 1999, for example,
77 refereed electronic journals in the humanities were listed by
e-journal, a site that indexes electronic web publications.
The Web provides these journals with an enormous opportunity to
use images and other visual design elements because the cost is
negligible compared to the cost of high-end graphics in print form.
In order to have some terms in which to discuss visual design in academic
journal web-sites, I want to introduce a concept from Richard Lanham's
The Electronic Word. Lanham argues
that there are two ways to experience a textto look AT it, and
to look THROUGH it. To look THROUGH a text, says Lanham, is to read
the text as a transparent vehicle for thought. The texts we look THROUGH
are written in a style that goes unnoticed, that draws little or no
attention to itself, that is "unselfconscious" (14). These
are texts that do little or nothing with visual design; they are the
traditional print journals which downplay if not scorn the possibilities
of visual communication. In contrast, to look AT a text is to look
at the surface, to pay attention to style, to recognize, finally that
even printed prose is "an act of extraordinary stylization"
(9). These are texts with strong visual features. Electronic media,
says Lanham, introduce an element of opacity, of looking AT a text.
Lanham says, "The graphical and typographical tricks to which
the electronic surface lends itself make us self-conscious again about
our own apparatus of vision" (73). Electronic texts create what
Lanham calls a bi-stable "decorum" in which readers, writers,
producers, users experience the text as something that oscillates
from the transparent to the opaque, from that which is looked THROUGH,
to that which is looked AT.