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eshaw's picture

Woman as negative space

Just to preface, I’ve been taking an English class solely devoted to the graphic novel so I’ve been thinking about these texts a lot in the past month. I find it very interesting and also appropriate that we should be using the medium for a text in Gen/Sex. Unlike traditional forms of literature, the graphic novel can deal with modes of representation in incredibly innovative ways that, at least for me, can more efficiently explore issues of categorization that is so often connected to a kind of visual representation. That being said, however, I was still surprised that a series like Sandman would so thoroughly investigate the gendered body in The Dollhouse. The theme that consistently emerged from my reading of the text was the juxtaposition of positive and negative space. The negative space, traditionally associated with woman, is a place of discomfort in the narrative tradition (you want to know what happens in the story - you want everything to be explained).  This first instance of this positive/negative juxtaposition is in the myth at the opening of the book – the myth ends with no resolution and this sits uncomfortably with the young man. This opening mirrors the conclusion of the book as well, which ends with a kind of cliffhanger (what was Desire trying to manipulate exactly?) The comic book mechanism rests entirely on that sense of space – what fills the spaces between the panels where the reader cannot see? The book relies on the negative spaces as a place for the reader to create a kind of cohesive unity, but it is also manipulated to get the reader to want to learn more about the story. This balance between positive (filling of space) and negative (emptiness of space) is reconfigured in The Dollhouse as a juxtaposition of gender. Rose, the Vortex, is a danger to the dream world – she threatens to collapse all the walls around individual dreams and erase them into a void of nothingness. The fascinating aspect for me about the presentation of this tale is the way in which there is no clear demarcation between “good” and “evil” in the classic comic book sense. Rose is threatening through her very existence rather than something she actively performs – her existence threatens the organization and presence of that material world of the dreamscape. While the book did not claim to resolve the gender binary, it did seem to provide glimpses of unity between the two. Ultimately, it seems to be making the claim for a kind of balance, a balance achieved between full and empty, positive and negative.



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