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Notes Towards Day 20: "Visibility Politics"


I. coursekeeping
notetaking by nk0825
For Thursday: read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
For next Tuesday: watch the film (need to spread this out...)

II. Afterthoughts from last week:
aseidman: text message follow-up and on the exclusive club

"blogging is for old people"

Patricia Cohen, "Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know": "Getting to the root of people's fascination with fiction .... is like 'mapping wonderland.'" 

III. Today's new text:
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
go round (as we did w/ Gaiman--so useful!)
sharing your initial reactions to this coming-of-age story,
to its visual (pared down) representation in particular/
your thoughts about the relation between medium and message:
(what genre is it? autobiography? history? novel?)
How cf. this, as genre, w/ A Game of You?

TPB1988 I can't believe they belong to the same genre
nk0825 I agree
spleenfiend undefined
rachelr Agreed


III. Doing some close reading (and getting outside, if desired...) 
following Art Spiegelman's observation that "people don't even have the patience to decode comics ... comics have become one of the last bastions of literacy"

also an initiative suggested by (sweetp-->skindeep-->)
ShanyaS In class...
sbg90 the case for images

one group each on
'The Veil,' p. 3;
'The Bicycle,' (esp. p. 15);
'The Party' (cf. p. 40, p. 42);
'The Heroes' (esp. p. 52);
'The Key' (esp. p. 102); and
'The Cigarette' (esp. p. 117).

Come back in 10-15 minutes ready to 'read'/teach
these pages to the rest of us.

Let's also look together @ the
abstract visuals on pp. 77 and 89.

IV. On the representation of trauma

Is drawing -- as a form of representation -- inherently fictional?

IV. What happens to our close readings,
if we place the form of Satrapi's work
in its long historical context?
(Cf. Paul Jefferson's visit to the James class, posing
close readings against culturally located ones...)

Consider, for example
"the swarming effect" of

* illustrated Bibles
(this is from The Holkham Bible, a “celebrated picture-book”/ collection of illustrated Bible stories modernised to appeal to 14th-century Londoners)
* Hieronymus Bosch (15th c. Netherlandish painter)
* Pieter Brueghel the elder (16th c. Netherlandish painter)

cartoons that incorporated verbal content, such as Hogath's 18th c. sequence,The Harlot's Progress (punctual, framed moments in an ongoing narrative)

two additional sources identified by Sartrapi herself:
in Persian miniatures  ("the drawing itself is very simple," eschewing perspective); see Bihzad on "trying to paint the
world as God would see it and not as we, humans, do."

avant-garde, black-and-white, expressionistic films like
Murnau's vampire fantasy Nosferatu (1922)

"Before it's projected ... film is just a very very very very slow comic" (McCloud).

What do these comparisons highlight about what Sartrapi is doing? How has she altered the tradition?

V. Some additional critical imput
(to use for thinking about Thursday's discussion):

Nancy K. Miller, "The Entangled Self: Genre Bondage in
the Age of the Memoir." PMLA 122, 2 (2008): 537-548.

"autographics"/"graphic memoirs"
what do readers look for in life stories?

"Memoirs from sites of danger provide a safe space for readers to ponder the nightmare of contemporary global relations, even as the pages display the extreme difficulty of living in times of traumatic history. The story of the other citizen, preferably female--the exotic, foreign self in translation (like us after all)--is also a valuable template in the marketplace of contemporary autobiographical production and consumption."

The tangled relation of self to family stories and settings .... is further layered by ... literary texts ....

the female autobiographical self ... goes public with private feelings through a significant relation to an other .... the other provides the authorizing conditions for self production .... "Isolate individualism is an illusion" .... Autobiography's story is about the web of entanglement in which we find ourselves .....

The reader ... is the autobiographer's most necessary other .... You conjure the reader to prove that you are alive ....

Hilary Chute, "The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis." Women's Studies Quarterly 36, 1&2 (Spring/
Summer 2008): 92-110.

(NYTimes): "comic books are what novels used to be--an accessible, vernacular form with mass appeal"

Some of today's most riveting feminist cultural production is in the form of accessible yet edgy graphic narratives.

"graphic narratives"... claim their own historicity -- even as they work to destabilize standard narratives of history.

I am interested in bringing the medium of comics -- its conventions, its violation of its conventions, what it does differently -- to the forefront of conversations about the political, aesthetic, and ethical work of narrative.

...  interpretation as a process of visualization.

... bridging wartime-focused testimonies and child-oriented testimonies ...

Persepolis was encouraged into existence ... by French cartoonists in the L'Association comics publishing collective ... because of the political situation in Iran it is unable to be officially translated into Farsi or published there --although ... there is a Persian version..circulating on the black market.

Persepolis is about the ethical verbal and visual practice of "not forgetting" ... modeling a feminist methodology in its form, in the complex visual dimension of its author narrating herself on the page as a multiple subject.

"The Veil"...
an icon of a single eye, directly engaging the reader, dangles over the book's very first gutter ... we are aligned with Satrapi's penetrating vision and enabling retracing ... "I gave myself this duty of witnessing" ... her self-establishing ("this is me") and the immediate deestablishment ("you don't see me") ... seeing a drawing, even as she announces ... a photograph...

Satrapi's stark style is monochromatic -- there is no evident shading technique; she offers flat black and white .... "the depiction of deliberately empty spaces" ... visual emptiness of the simple, ungraded blackness in the frames shows memory's ... thickness, its depth ....

... frequent scenes in which public skirmishes appear as stylized and even symmetrical formations of bodies ... in Persian miniatures ... "the drawing itself is very simple," eschewing perspective...

The minimalist play of black and white ... to present events with a pointed degree of abstraction in order to call attention to the horror of history
.... Persepolis's ... stylistic inspiration is avant-garde, black-and-white cinema -- especially expressionistic films such as Murnau's vampire fantasy Nosferatu (1922) ....

"Violence today has become something so normal, so banal ... But it's not normal. To draw it and put it in color -- the color of flesh and the red of the blood, and so forth -- reduces it by making it realistic" .... Persepolis is devastatingly truthful and yet stylized ... style as a narrative choice ... is fundamental to understanding graphic narrative ... pared-down techniques of line and perspective ... as with abstract expressionism, which justifies a flatness of composition to intensify affective content ... is a sophisticated, and historically cognizant, means of doing the work of seeing."

"The Bicycle"
child-s eye rendition of trauma ... haunts the text because of its incommmensurablity -- and yet its expressionistic consonance -- with what we are provoked to imagine is the visual reality of this brutal murder ... the author draws a scene of death... as a child imagines it .... in a form keyed to structural gaps through the frame-gutter sequence...

present mass death in a highly stylized fashion .... almost architectural ... a child's too-tidy conceptualization ... and the disturbing, anonymous profusion of bodies ....

the pitfalls of other, ostensibly transparent representational modes: "I cannot take the idea of a man cut into pieces and just write it. It would not be anything but cynical That's why I drew it" ... from a child's (realistically erroneous but emotionally, expressionistically informed) perspective ....

... no perspective, however informed, can fully represent trauma .... it is in "excess of our frames of reference" .... [In] a child's imaging of torture ... one recognizes not only the inadequacy of any representation to such traumatic history, but also ... the simultaneous power of the radically inadequate (the child's naive confusion).

combining on a page ... the historical "routine" (execution) and the personal "routine" (sneaking cigarettes) ... uses understated graphic idiom to convey the horror of her "story of a childhood." Persepolis shows trauma as ordinary, both in the text's form -- the understated, spatial correspondences Persepolis employs to narrative effect through comics panelization -- and in style: the understated quality of Satrapi's line that rejects the visually laborious ... to departicularize the singular witnessing ... to open out the text ... while Persepolis may show trauma as (unfortunately) ordinary, it rejects the idea that it is (or should ever be) normal ....

Persepolis offers not simply a "visibility politics," but an ethical and troubling visual aesthetics...

Hillary Chute, "Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative." PMLA 123, 2 (2008): 452-465.
Comics -- a form once considered pure junk -- is sparking interest in literary studies ...The field hasn't yet  grasped its object or properly posed its project ... we need to go beyond preestablished rubrics ... to reexamine the categories of fiction, narrative, and historicity ....

Comics might be defined as a hybrid word-and-image form in which two narrative tracks, one verbal and one visual, register temporality spatially ... through its progressive counterpoint of presence and absence: packed panels (also called frames) alternating with gutters (empty space) .... comics doesn't blend the visual and the verbal -- or use one simply to illustrate the other -- but is rather prone to present the two nonsynchronously; a reader of comics ... also works with the often disjunctive back-and-forth of reading and looking for meaning.

... the strongest genre in the field: nonfiction comics ....  the problem of representing history .... the ability of comics to spatially juxtapose (and overlay) past and present and future moments on the page ....

... the form confronts the default assumption that drawing as a system is inherently more fictional than prose and gives a new cast to what we consider fiction and nonfiction .....

the comics page ... is a material register of seriality, a narrative architecture built on the establishment of or deviation from regular intervals of space....

Cartoon comes from the Italian word cartone, meaning cardboard, and denotes a drawing for a picture or design intended historically to be transferred to tapestries or to frescoes ... "with the coming of the printing press, 'cartone' took on another meaning. It was a sketch which could be mass produced. It was an image which could be transmitted widely."

Smolderen ... rejects sequence as the defining property of comics and analyzes the "swarming effect" in single images from illustrated Bibles and Bosch and Brueghel up through children's books.
Harvey counters, ..."the essential characteristic of 'comics' ... is the incorporation of verbal content .... Harvey's history is located in figures including Hogarth, Gilray, Rowlandson, and Goya.

The form of comics always hinges on the way temporality can be traced in complex, often nonlinear paths across the space of a page .... comics works "choreograph and shape time" .... the specificity of how this is accomplished ... locates what is most formally interesting about comics.

Panels ... "a general indicator that space and time are being divided" -- are the most basic aspect of comics grammar, because "comics panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments"; they alternate on the page with blank space....

A comics page ... is highly conscious of the artificiality of its selective borders, which diagram the page into an arrangement of encapsulated moments ... the gutter "plays host" to what is "at the very heart of comics .... what's between the panels is the only element of comics that is not duplicated in any other medium."

Hogarth's importance to comics .... A Harlot's Progress ... represents punctual, framed moments in an ongoing narrative ...extending ut pictura poesis from poetry to the modern genre of the novel: he introduced a sequential, novelistic structure to a pictorial form.

Even in early incarnations, comics was understood as an antielitist art form ... marked form the beginning by its commodity status ... both a mass-market product and influenced by avant-garde practices, especially those of Dada and surrealism .... in the late 1930s ... "wordless novels" appeared: beautifully rendered woodcut works ... that almost entirely served a socialist agenda and incorporated experimental practices associated with literary modernism...

as a form that relies on space to represent time ... comics becomes structurally equipped to challenge dominant modes of storytelling and history writing.

"different media interact with each other to produce a more permeable and multiple text that may recast the problematics of representation and definitively eradicate any clear-cut distinction between the documentary and the aesthetic"

Spiegelman publicly and successfully fought The New York Times to get his book moved from the fiction to the nonfiction best-seller list ..... the non-transparency of drawing ... lends a subjective register to the narrative surfaces of comics pages ... productively self-aware in how they "materialize" history....

An awareness of the limits of representation ... not only specific to the problem of articulating trauma but also ...a "condito sine qua non of all representations" ... in its insistent, affective, urgent visualizing of historical circumstance ...

three of today's most acclaimed cartoonists ... work in the nonfiction mode .... This is not a coincidence .... graphic narrative ... in its experimentation with the artificial strictures of the comics form -- [calls] our attention to the ... "textualization of the context" ... with its manifest handling its own artifice, its attention to its seams. Its formal grammar rejects transparency and renders textualization conspicuous...

The most important graphic narratives explore the conflicted boundaries of what can be said and what can be shown at the intersection of collective histories and life stories .... an everyday reality of women's lives, which, while rooted in the personal, is invested and threaded with collectivity ...

the compounding of word and image has led to new possibilities for writing history that combine formal experimentation with an appeal to mass readerships ...the problematics of what we consider fact and fiction are made apparent by the role of drawing .... Comics contain "double vision" in their structural hybridity, their double (but nonsynthesized) narratives of words and images.

.... comics as a form requires a substantial degree of reader participation for narrative interpretation ... the form can place a great demand on our cognitive skills ...beg rereadings and deliberately confused narrative linerarity ... spatializing the verbal narrative to dramatize or disrupt the visual narrative threads ellipses into the grammar of a medium already characterized by the elliptical structure of the frame-gutter-frame sequence.

VI. Bringing this home:
Cf. Lewin's article: consider the analogies/where they break down: between a woman's college and the sex-segregation practices common in the Middle East?

From an alum living in Syria, whose sister decided not to come to Bryn Mawr: "I did not want to go to an all-women's college. I just don't like the idea of separating people and living in an exclusively unisex atmosphere. I don't see the reason for it. It's like when you go to a Ramadan feast and all the women are on one side of the room and all the men on the other --- why can't they interact? Why can't they even pray side by side?"

The history of "the gaze"
From John Berger's 1972 Ways of Seeing:
"A woman ... is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself ... she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman ... Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another ... women watch themselves being looked at...this determines ... the relation of women to themselves ... she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight" (pp. 46-47).