>Image as "Text"

>*some minor editing due to stupid spelling and syntactical errors (2005-08-29, 10:39 pm)

Dan began an old post with:

Something Jon posted in my comments down below got me thinking about something. We were talking about the assumed primacy of text in reading (he was talking, I was injecting pointless nonsense here and there…), and alternative modes, or lenses through which a critical apprehension of an art object may be obtained (in addition to, not instead of, the text itself, just so I’m clear) came up.

He continued with:

A link to a published discussion between a neurologist and a mathematician sent me off on a mental tangent from which I was destined not to return, and I started thinking about the apprehension of the universe through use of mathematics.

I never really responded–or rather, my response was short (and I guess there’s some sort of half-life for Haloscan comments as most of my old comments at Dan’s blog are gone), and didn’t necessarily get into the meat of what I was thinking about.

See, in the end–written and printed mathematics are just another kind of text. As are music notation, various dance notations (e.g. Labanotation and Benesh Movement Notation), as well as SignWriting. All of these are read, but obviously not all of them are read by everyone (or read in the same manner).

This is true of written languages–I doubt there is anyone that can read them all (or that they are all read in the same manner).

See, one of the functions of criticism–for me at least–is the ability to articulate differences. In other words, being able to tell why A is different than B while giving some sort of account of why that difference exists. For example, why is it that almost all logographic scripts (e.g. Hieroglyphs; those by various cultures that use Chinese characters) are read vertically rather than horizontally as is the case with almost all alphabetic or phonetic scripts? What is it about the orthographic direction of certain classes of scripts that make them more likely to be read in the direction that they are read? What are the implications for the construction of meaning due to differences in scripts?

These are the types of questions that interest me and now maybe you can see the direction I’m going. Whether or not comics “writing” constitutes another type of “language” as Neil Cohn contends (and that Scott McCloud seems to imply) makes no difference because in the end, the form is still just another complex set of symbolic notations just as mathematical notation and labanotation are. At the same time, the type of notation that it is makes reading it as different as reading music notation or reading SignWriting (or as reading a logographic script).

This is not to say that there is an absolute difference. I don’t at all mean to imply that at all–all of these forms of notations ultimately happen “in the head,” so to speak, so there is ultimately going to be some overlap of function about how meaning is created, or how the script is read.

But going back to the “assumed primacy of text in reading” that Dan mentions–more often than not this leads some comics criticism into litcrit. Which is fine. I have no problem with using literary criticism to analyse comics–some interesting and fascinating interpretations may be constructed in that manner. But in the end, I do have to agree with McCloud that comics are essentially a “visual” form of communication (obviously this is problematic as we can see that any “text” is visual in nature). In other words, while we may very well have wordless comics, or “sourds” as they are sometimes called in French bande dessinĂ©e criticism, we couldn’t very well have imageless comics (i.e. “picture-less”). The latter would just be called “books” after all.

So, with apologies to Dave Fiore I’m going to have to disagree with the equivocation of narrative and language; to any bloggers out there, with the equivocation of language and thought. Sometimes we can think without words–and in many cases we can even write and read those ideas without words.


2 thoughts on “>Image as "Text"

  1. >Actually, there are several instances of “imageless comics” that use panels yet no pictures. One is a book by Kenneth Koch, the title of which escapes me. There’s a video clip of me talking about this in 2004 at the ComicCon that has the book in it. Derik Badman also recently posted on this on his blog too.


  2. >Haha–thanks Neil, I figured someone would find a counter-example. I’ve actually written “imageless” and “textless” mini-comics myself–just to have counterexamples (both of the minis use only panels and word/thought balloons with no images or texts).I guess one of the questions I might ask about the example of Lasky’s adaptation (since it’s obvious that the text can stand on its own), “Does the addition of the panels and word ballons constitute the usage of images or not?” Another might be “Are panels and word/thought balloons images or not?” Those are the interesting question for me–my own “textless”/”wordless” minis hearken back to the Futurist/Dadaist experiments in concrete poetry where the iconic content (to borrow Jacobson’s sense of iconicity, and maybe even Pierce’s usage) begins to overtake the other five parameters of [written] language. How the text looks become more important than what the text conveys or what the text is a symbolic representation of.The Lasky example is one of those wonderful pieces that blurs the line between different symbolic modes–something that I’ve always loved about the “historical avant garde” with their various manifesti and visual poetry. Thanks for pointing that one out.Also, thanks for the vid clip link. Koch’s work is a perfect counter-example as well (it’s also nice to put a voice to your face and text).Here’re a couple pages from my You Are Mini-Comics Creator.The above is from a 20 page mini I “authored” a few weeks ago. Very much inspired by a release by an underground Japanese Noise Band, Gerogerigegege, titled Shaking Box Music (You Are Noisemaker), which is just a metal box filled with blank cassette tapes (1985). I see the inspiration for the Gerogerigegege release in Marcel Duchamp’s “assisted readymade,” with hidden noise (1916) and John Cage’s “silent” composition, 4’33” (1952).My second mini, is just the image above printed on a transparency (titled “in memoriam John Cage”). It was inspired by some comments made by Cage during an interview when asked about whether or not he could view people at the beach as a form of theatre. His answer was the obvious “Yes.” With this mini (which is only two pages) the idea is that whatever is seen through the panels just happens to be the “images” and/or “text” of the comic.Thanks again for pointing those out, I’m really out of the loop as far as what comics are out there. I guess being “AWOL” for so long hasn’t helped, eh?


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