2 Feb 2016

Iser (§2) “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” part II, summary

 

by Corry Shores

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[Iser, “The Reading Process,” Entry Directory]

 

[The following is summary. All boldface and parenthetical commentary are my own.]

 

 

Wolfgang Iser

 

“The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”

 

II

 

 

Brief summary:
Phenomenologically speaking, to each sentence we read in a literary text there is a mental experience providing conscious content corresponding to that sentence. This content we may call the intentional correlates of the sentence. Each correlate gives us a part of the story’s world. But these parts in sum do not make up that world, because they are not inherently inter-connected within a fully coherent and complete system of facts. Rather, our minds creatively generate that coherence by filling in gaps in the story-world and in its series of events. The way we construct that series of events can be understood in terms of Husserl’s analyses of time consciousness, in which he identified three inter-penetrating layers of our awareness: {a} awareness of current mental contents, or intentions, {b} awareness of passed contents, or retentions, and {c} awareness of future contents, or protentions. In Iser’s terminology, these three are perspectives, recollections, and preintentions, respectively. Just as in our everyday time-constituting consciousness that provides the temporal coherence to our world, this process of story-world realization is under continual modification across all three temporal dimensions as we proceed through the text. For, new events cause us to modify our understanding of past ones and to anticipate certain other ones to come. When we reread a text, we know the outcomes. However, we still constitute the text using the same process, only this second time we see the events under a new light, which alters again with each subsequent rereading.

 

 

Summary

 

[Previously Iser ended the section by describing the interactive process between reader and text, by which certain unstated implications (imagined, interpreted, evaluated, and so on) are woven into the text by means of the reader’s creative contribution to the literary work’s realization: “Thus begins a whole dynamic process: the written text imposes certain limits on its unwritten implications in order to prevent these from becoming too blurred and hazy, but at the same time these implications, worked out by the reader’s imagination, set the given situation against a background which endows it with far greater significance than it might have seemed to possess on its own. In this way, trivial scenes suddenly take on the shape of an ‘enduring form of life.’ What constitutes this form is never named, let alone explained, in the text, although in fact it is the end product of the interaction between text and reader” (281).] Iser now wonders to what extent we may describe the process of reader-text interaction that realizes the literary work. There is a psychological element that needs to be described. But attempts at examining this psychological element so far have largely been psychoanalytic, [which is problematic, because it begins first with theoretical assumptions regarding the unconscious that it then seeks to find exhibited in the psychological elements in the reader-text interaction. Phenomenological analyses, however, do not begin with theoretical assumptions but rather only with methodological tools enabling raw descriptions of consciousness made from inside the conscious experience. Any structures to be found are presumably ones that are inherent to and discoverable in consciousness, rather than being structures posited in advance of the analysis. Let me quote since I may be interpreting incorrectly.]

The question now arises as to how far such a process can be adequately described. For this purpose a phenomenological analysis recommends itself, especially since the somewhat sparse observations hitherto made of the psychology of reading tend mainly to be psychoanalytical, and so are restricted to the illustration of predetermined ideas concerning the unconscious. We shall, however, take a closer look later at some worthwhile psychological observations.
(281)

 

[I do not quite grasp the next concepts. One basic idea is that sentences in literary texts do not correspond to any objective reality outside themselves. I assume the idea is that in fiction, we are not describing parts of the actual world. Instead, what concerns us are the “intentional correlates” of the sentences. On the basis of what is written, which I will quote below, I cannot define this term. But from what I gather about intentionality in phenomenology, I would guess that an intentional correlate to a sentence are the states and acts of consciousness, and more importantly the contents of those states and acts of consciousness, that one has when reading intently those sentences. Take for example the opening sentence of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” As we read this, we are not just aware of the black squiggles on a white page background. Our consciousness is much richer than that. The squiggles are not seen as such but as taking a particular formation determined by social custom and personal habit. And it is not just a visual experience, but as well an audio and even tactile one, as we might have slight impressions of our speaking apparatus in motion while reading it (this is perhaps more evident when there are elements like alliteration which invite an imagined or actual vocalization). But more important are the images and meanings evoked by these symbols, and the world of imaginable sense-data and also the signifiances in this fictional world. It is not our world, but we build it up with conscious contents, which are perhaps what are called ‘intentional correlates’ here, from our given stock. Iser’s point seems to be that each sentence gives us a fragment of the story world, which is composed of conscious contents from our own given mental stock. And the combination of the contents correlated to each sentence of the story in sum are all the explicitly given parts of the world that the literary work presents to us. Iser then makes another point that I also may be missing. Buy it seems he is saying that even the sentences alone (along with their respective specific intentional correlates) are not enough even in sum to give us this whole fictional world, because still more on the part of the reader needs to be added in order to fill out that world, because much is still left out. For example, the reader never learns what kind of an insect Gregor is. We either need to determine that ourselves, taking a personal liberty not directed by the text, or we must navigate Kafka’s highly imaginative world with the central part left unimaginable to some degree. There is also an interesting point at the end of this paragraph that the intentional contents also have subtle implicit connections that enable the more explicit statements and claims to interconnect and thereby to obtain their meanings. So we can be handed a number of parts of a world. But that is not a world. They only take on a world-like structure by means of their interconnections, and perhaps that work of interconnecting has a lot to do with how the reader creatively uses the subtle connecting implications of each sentence to string the parts together into meaningful coherent ways.]

As a starting point for a phenomenological analysis we might examine the way in which sequent sentences act upon one another. This is of especial importance in literary texts in view of the fact that they do not correspond to any objective reality outside themselves. The world presented by literary texts is constructed out of what Ingarden has called intentionale Satzkorrelate (intentional sentence correlatives):

Sentences link up in different ways to form more complex units of meaning that reveal a very varied structure giving rise to such entities as a short story, a novel, a dialogue, a drama, a scientific theory.... In the final analysis, there arises a particular world, with component parts deter- mined in this way or that, and with all the variations that may occur within these parts – all this as a purely intentional correlative of a complex of sentences. If this complex finally forms a literary work, I call the whole sum of sequent intentional sentence correlatives the ‘world presented’ in the work.5 |

This world, however, does not pass before the reader's eyes like a film. The sentences are “component parts” insofar as they make statements, claims, or observations, or convey information, and so establish various perspectives in the text. But they remain only “component parts”– they are not the sum total of the text itself. For the intentional correlatives disclose subtle connections which individually are less concrete than the statements, claims, and observations, even though these only take on their real meaningfulness through the interaction of their correlatives.
(281-282)
[Ft.5: Ingarden, Vom Erkennen des literarischen Kunstwerks, p. 29.]

 

 

Iser then wonders, how should we understand these connections between the intentional correlates? [I am uncertain about this next idea. It might be that the connections are understood in how they create a network that is continuously building and in that process creates expectations that are more or less fulfilled. I am still not sure what is meant by “perspectives”. It might be the limited views of the much larger world that each sentence gives us. It also might be his term for “intentions” as Husserl uses it. I cannot interpret all the ideas in this paragraph, reproduced below, but it seems there is a certain pregnancy of the sentences in a literary work, and they continually open a horizon of further world-revelation. So let us examine again the sentence: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” We now have open temporal horizons, because we might  wonder for example, who was Gregor before the transformation, and what will he do now? We also might ask ourselves, where is he now, and who else is with him? What kind of a life does he normally live? What kind of a person is he, and how will he deal with this transformation?]

How is one to conceive the connection between the correlatives? It marks those points at which the reader is able to “climb aboard” the text. He has to accept certain given perspectives, but in doing so he inevitably causes them to interact. When Ingarden speaks of intentional sentence correlatives in literature, the statements made, or information conveyed in the sentence are already in a certain sense qualified: for example the sentence does not consist solely of a statement – which, after all, would be absurd, as one can only make statements about things that exist – but aims at something beyond what it actually says. This is true of all sentences in literary works, and it is through the interaction of these sentences that their common aim is fulfilled. This is what gives them their own special quality in literary texts. In their capacity as statements, observations, purveyors of information, etc., they are always indications of something that is to come, the structure of which is foreshadowed by their specific content.
(282)

 

[It seems the core of the next ideas are that the generation of the literary work’s world is a process of gradual unfolding. This process has something like Husserl’s tripartite structure of temporal consciousness, with a focus on the future-ward protentional expectations. With each new sentence, our prior anticipations are more-or-less fulfilled as more of the story world and its events’ development are revealed. But in the same stroke of that revelation, new possibilities, uncertainties, and anticipations are created, with this process continuing constantly.]

They set in motion a process out of which emerges the actual content of the text itself. In describing man’s inner consciousness of time, Husserl once remarked: “Every originally constructive process is inspired by pre-intentions, which construct and collect the seed of what is to come, as such, and bring it to fruition.”6 For this bringing to fruition, the literary text needs the reader’s imagination, which gives shape to the interaction of correlatives foreshadowed in structure by the sequence of the sentences. Husserl’s observation draws our attention to a point that plays a not insignificant part in the process of reading. The individual sentences not only work together to shade in what is to come; they also form an expectation in this regard. Husserl calls this expectation “pre-intentions.” As this structure is characteristic of all sentence correlatives, the interaction of these correlatives will not be a fulfilment of the expectation so much as a continual modification of it.
(282)
[Ft.6: Edmund Husserl, Zur Phiinomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins, Gesammelte Werke 10 (Haag, 1966), 52.]

 

[Because each fulfillment widens the phenomenal horizon and creates newer expectations,] the anticipations created by literary texts are almost never fulfilled. [Sometimes they are fulfilled. I do not gather the idea here, but perhaps he is saying that the degree to which the text fulfills expectations, the less literary it is and the more didactic it is. Perhaps the problem is that we would feel too forced along the line of reasoning of the text. The next idea is interesting. Not only are the expectations continually modified, but with each new revelation or development, we might retroactively modify what has come before. There is more discussion of this retroactive modification in Husserl’s time consciousness here.]

For this reason, expectations are scarcely ever fulfilled in truly literary texts. If they were, then such texts would be confined to the individualization of a given expectation, and one would inevitably ask what such an intention was supposed to achieve. Strangely enough, we feel that any confirmative effect – such as we implicitly demand of expository texts, as we refer to the objects they are meant to present – is a defect in a literary text. For the more a text individualizes or confirms an expectation it has initially aroused, the more aware we become of its didactic purpose, so that at best we can only accept or reject the thesis forced upon us. More often than not, the very clarity of such texts will make us want to free ourselves from their clutches. But generally the sentence correlatives of literary texts do not develop in this rigid way, for the expectations they evoke tend to encroach on one another in such a manner that they are continually modified as one reads. One might simplify by saying that each intentional sentence correlative opens up a particular horizon, which is modified, if not completely changed, by succeeding sentences. While these expecta- tions arouse interest in what is to come, the subsequent modification of them will also have a retrospective effect on what has already been read. This may now take on a different significance from that which it had at the moment of reading.
(283)

 

[I think it is possible that here Iser is discussing two sorts of gaps. {a} One sort is filled somewhat mechanically by using a basic inferential sort of thinking. We draw conclusions based on evidence, and we fill in story gaps with a relatively high degree of certainty about our inferences. But this process can still be engaging, if we as the reader are invited to tell interesting parts of the story this way. {b} The other sort of gap could be ones that have an infinite richness to them, because for one reason or another, any one way of filling them seems somehow to not be definitive or entirely satisfactory. Let me try to illustrate this distinction with some story “gaps” in Don Rosa’s Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. (If you have never heard of this graphic novel, please do not let its title mislead you about its worth. It in fact is a masterpiece of visual story-telling, and there are few graphic novels that I can recommend as highly.) The first illustration, below, will demonstrate the first type inferential gap-filling, which we said was mechanical but potentially interesting. We see in the second panel a character peeking into the women’s backstage dressing room.  (The first panel tells us that he knows he should keep his eyes covered at all times.) The third panel does not give us any information about what he is doing. But the fourth panel shows him knocked out with the woman’s hairbrush broken above his head.

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.Companion.p130.hari brush.2M_zps0zfwh5ux.jpg

So here is a gap in the action. It causes us to imagine him getting hit on the head, for doing something foolish and improper. Here the author leaves it to our imagination to animate this funny slap-stick part of the scene. And since there are few other ways he could have gotten knocked out along with the hair brush being broken, we can be relatively certain that is what happened, and probably we will not reconsider that inference (unless of course other information later on causes us to retroactively modify that interpretation).

There however is another element of inconsistency or gap in this story-world which gives it immense emotional power. Scrooge is an interesting character:  he values money over not just all other things, he even values money over the things that money can buy. Thus he lives relatively frugally but enjoys swimming in his money. (This frugality of course places a strain on his relations with his close family members.)

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.V2.p58.swim barrels.2_zpsk3kdrv2v.jpg

This is interesting. It is not just greed or a hunger for material goods. It is more idealized. It is a pure love of money itself and of its accumulation. (By the way, Eric Alliez has an interesting discussion of a similar idea, chrematistics.) But even this seemingly straightforward characteristic is not entirely certain, as there are often moments of inconsistency. He at times shows genuine empathy for creatures in need (but he is careful to hide this other side of his personality).

 photo Rosa Don. Magesty McDuck.birds_zpsa1ga8nlv.jpg

Also his greed is mixed with other traits that we might actually admire, like determination and pluck.

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.Companion.Captain inspiration_zpsaxljdewg.jpg

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.V2.p87_zpsbvj66nlp.jpg

We find also that in his past he had fallen in love with Goldie, who as well fell in love with him. What is interesting and compelling about this relationship is their difficulty in expressing that love directly. And in Scrooge’s case, his feelings might be so strong that for one reason or another he cannot risk learning  how Goldie feels about him. Their love affair is told through flashback, beginning with a question that triggers a flashback deep into his memory. So we know it is a profoundly important element of his past that maintains its inner significance even to the present of his life.

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.Companion.p81.flashback_zpsdtuaeebx.jpg

At first Goldie and Scrooge rightfully mistrust each other’s intentions, but they also admire one another and secretly each falls in love with the other. Scrooge of course has a reputation of valuing his money and property to a pathological level of obsession. But Goldie finds out that the true object of Scrooge’s cares is in fact she herself.

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.Companion.p105.hair_zpsnnuopfrd.jpg

In the following gorgeous and powerful scene, Goldie presents herself in a position that would allow Scrooge to overcome his emotional barricades and give into his love for her.

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.Companion.p134.fire_zps2jgpipms.jpg

However, Scrooge is knocked out accidentally in the next part of this scene, and thus instead of saving Goldie, she must drag him out of the burning building herself. So Goldie later writes a letter that presumably expresses her love to Scrooge, which she then dispatches to him on his journey away from the town.

 photo Rosa Don. Life Times Scrooge McDuck.Companion.p137-8.letter.2_zpsrzpphdbx.jpg

But as you can see, we never learn of the contents of the letter, and Scrooge and Goldie’s love for each other is never fulfilled.

Now, in contrast to the first case we examined, the final scene with the letter in the snow invites us not just to fill in some small plot gap, like how we figured out that the peeper gets knocked down by the hairbrush. Rather, the gap this scene creates is one that challenges us to rearrange many of the other connections in the story. Since much of the story and its significance revolve around Scrooge and his true inner nature, this more profound gap invites us to reconstitute very basic structuring principles in the story itself. A lot of the coherence of the story elements hinges on knowing why Scrooge makes this fateful decision that he never resolves throughout the rest of his life. Yet we as the reader are not able to know why, and thus Rosa creates a profoundly rich openness or “gap” in the story-world. In his own commentaries on this story, Rosa himself writes, “Finally, what do you suppose was in the letter that Goldie sent to Scrooge in the final scene, and which he never read, fearing that it was more hateful comments from the woman he secretly loved? How would his life have been forever changed from that point on? Would he have still become the richest duck in the world? Hm...” (Rosa, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Companion, p.140). So as you can see, the author wanted this gap to remain open, despite its central importance to the character.]

 

[Returning now to the Iser text.... Whatever we read sinks into our memory and might be recalled later. But when it is recalled, it is modified by the current act of consciousness; and mutually so, that current act will be modified by the memory, and both together shape our expectations.]

Whatever we have read sinks into our memory and is foreshortened. It may later be evoked again and set against a different background with the result that the reader is enabled to develop hitherto unforeseeable connections. The memory evoked, however, can never reassume its original shape, for this would mean that memory and perception were identical, which is manifestly not so. The new background brings to light new aspects of what we had committed to memory; conversely these, in turn, shed their light on the new background, thus arousing more complex anticipations. Thus, the reader, in establishing these interrelations between past, present and future, actually causes the text to reveal its potential multiplicity of connections. These connections are the product of the reader’s mind working on the raw material of the text, though they are not the text itself – for this consists just of sentences, statements, information, etc.
(283)

 

[The next point connects the created world of the literary work with reality, and more specifically, with a virtual reality. The first point might be that the events appear real perhaps because they are constituted by means of the same phenomenal constituting processes and structures that we use to constitute the reality of the normal world around us. Or perhaps the idea is that they seem real on account of the strong binding phenomenal coherence of these worlds, which is woven using the intimately inter-connected layers of temporalized consciousness. The next idea is that this reality endowed upon the literary world is generated through the creative activities of the reader’s faculties. And finally, this reality of the literary work exists on a virtual dimension, because it exists neither in the text itself nor in the reader’s imagination but rather at their point of their intersection, which is elusively somewhere else.]

This is why the reader often feels involved in events which, at the time of reading, seem real to him, even though in fact they are very far from his own reality. The fact that completely different readers can be differently affected by the “reality” of a particular text is ample evidence of the degree to which literary texts transform reading into a creative process that is far above mere perception of what is written. | The literary text activates our own faculties, enabling us to recreate the world it presents. The product of this creative activity is what we might call the virtual dimension of the text, which endows it with its reality. This virtual dimension is not the text itself, nor is it the imagination of the reader: it is the coming together of text and imagination.
(283-284)

 

[I am uncertain about the first idea in the next paragraph, but I think it is again that there is the tripartite structure of retention, intention, and protention, each being simultaneously co-modifying in the way we mentioned above. Then the next idea might be that although this process is always at work, that does not mean that it generates the same literary work with each reading, because different dimensions or aspects of the work’s virtual reality can be brought out in each case. The third idea of this paragraph I find the most important and interesting. Iser’s comment is formulated in response to Ingarden’s belief that the phenomenal unfolding of the text should always be continuous such that each expectation is harmoniously fulfilled for the most part with the next sentence to be read. Iser’s point is that actually disappointments to previously established expectations are in fact vital to the literary work rather than being evidence of compositional flaws. This I think may be similar to Deleuze’s (metaphysical) concept of “dramatization”. There is something substantial about discontinuity and inconsistency. If a long story is entirely self-consistent, I imagine you can probably reduce it to a simple summary, to a cliché perhaps. Instead, a story can obtain more substantiality were it to be filled with parts that do not fit so cleanly together for reasons that provoke us to delve deeper into its workings. So inconsistency is substantial in the sense of irreducibility. We can think also of the substantiality in terms of a feeling of dramatic weight that certain specific moments can have. If the story is compressible, then each moment will seem to be channeled to some outcome or to a limited range or types of outcomes. But if the story instead contains discontinuity and uncertainty, then those moments in which we do not know where the story might go obtain a certain weight to them. As far as an event goes, there is something really there to such an event, some real importance or weight, and in that way on account of its discontinuity and inconsistency it gains substantiality. Another thing to consider is openness and productivity. Kafka’s ‘Before the Law’ parable in The Trial is simple but has something inconsistent or uncertain about it that leads us to continually reconsider it anew, just like the series of commentaries the Priest gives after telling the story. As a text, this parable is brief. But as a literary phenomenon constituted in the reader’s consciousness in her continual interaction with the text, it is infinitely rich and extensive. Iser highlights the gaps and blockages that we in a gestalt sort of way fill in, and these contributions we make are our own (the reader’s) artistic creations. Now, let me just briefly summarize my three points about the “substantiality” of “dramatization:” certain inconsistent, discontinuous texts are substantial because {a} they cannot be compressed (and thus cannot have any of their bulk removed), {b} they have ‘weight’ (since many pivotal moments have an  undecidability that gives them dramatic importance), and {c} they are productive of an endless series of significances, interpretations, rereads, and so on (and thus they are substantial because they never stop proving their worth and wealth; they never stop demonstrating that there is more inside them).]

As we have seen, the activity of reading can be characterized as a sort of kaleidoscope of perspectives, preintentions, recollections. Every sentence contains a preview of the next and forms a kind of view-finder for what is to come; and this in turn changes the “preview” and so becomes a “viewfinder” for what has been read. This whole process represents the fulfilment of the potential, unexpressed reality of the text, but it is to be seen only as a framework for a great variety of means by which the virtual dimension may be brought into being. The process of anticipation and retrospection itself does not by any means develop in a smooth flow. Ingarden has already drawn attention to this fact, and ascribes a quite remarkable significance to it:

Once we are immersed in the flow of Satzdenken (sentence-thought), we are ready, after completing the thought of one sentence, to think out the ‘continuation,’ also in the form of a sentence – and that is, in the form of a sentence that connects up with the sentence we have just thought through. In this way the process of reading goes effortlessly forward. But if by chance the following sentence has no tangible connection whatever with the sentence we have just thought through, there then comes a blockage in the stream of thought. This hiatus is linked with a more or less active surprise, or with indignation. This blockage must be overcome if the reading is to flow once more.7

The hiatus that blocks the flow of sentences is, in Ingarden's eyes, the product of chance, and is to be regarded as a flaw; this is typical of his adherence to the classical idea of art. If one regards the sentence sequence as a continual flow, this implies that the anticipation aroused by one sentence will generally be realized by the next, and the frustration of one's expectations will arouse feelings of exasperation. And yet literary texts are full of unexpected twists and turns, and frustration of expectations. Even in the simplest story there is bound to be some kind of blockage, if only for the fact that no tale can ever be told in its entirety. Indeed, it is only through inevitable omissions that a story will gain its dynamism. Thus whenever the flow is interrupted and we are led off in unexpected directions, the opportunity is given to us to | bring into play our own faculty for establishing connections-for filling in the gaps left by the text itself.8
(248-285)

 

The gaps as we said are filled in a gestalt-like way, and since they do not exist in the text itself, they exist on a “virtual dimension”. But, there is no predetermined way for the reader to fill in those gaps. Thus one text can be realized many different ways, on account of there being a variety of ways that the gaps affect the processes anticipation and retroactive re-interpretation. And in fact, no one reading of a text (nor perhaps the sum of all readings) can exhaustively realize it. Modern texts especially make intentional use of the text’s inexhaustibility. For example, they might be more fragmentary to make us more aware of our own active contribution to filling in the gaps. The text always has more potential than any reading can bear out, and with each rereading often more of its wealth can be extracted.

These gaps have a different effect on the process of anticipation and retrospection, and thus on the “gestalt” of the virtual dimension, for they may be filled in different ways. For this reason, one text is potentially capable of several different realizations, and no reading can ever exhaust the full potential, for each individual reader will fill in the gaps in his own way, thereby excluding the various other possibilities; as he reads, he will make his own decision as to how the gap is to be filled. In this very act the dynamics of reading are revealed. By making his decision he implicitly acknowledges the inexhaustibility of the text; at the same time it is this very inexhaustibility that forces him to make his decision. With “traditional” texts this process was more or less unconscious, but modern texts frequently exploit it quite deliberately. They are often so fragmentary that one's attention is almost exclusively occupied with the search for connections between the fragments; the object of this is not to complicate the “spectrum” of connections, so much as to make us aware of the nature of our own capacity for providing links. In such cases, the text refers back directly to our own preconceptions – which are revealed by the act of interpretation that is a basic element of the reading process. With all literary texts, then, we may say that the reading process is selective, and the potential text is infinitely richer than any of its individual realizations. This is borne out by the fact that a second reading of a piece of literature often produces a different impression from the first. The reasons for this may lie in the reader’s own change of circumstances, still, the text must be such as to allow this variation. On a second reading familiar occurrences now tend to appear in a new light and seem to be at times corrected, at times enriched.
(285)


[I am not certain about the next point, but it is possible Iser is referring to two sequences of time: {a} the sequence of story events that we construct in our imagination as we read the specific event descriptions and also infer other events that are implied, and {b} the “real-time” sequence of the reader’s conscious awareness. I mention these two streams, because it seems Iser is saying that no matter how short the text is, in order to constitute a we also need some durational extent of  b. But as we read, the series of anticipations of events that are forthcoming and in fact even tour recollections of hose that already happened are under continuous modification, especially I think with plot-twist mechanisms that get us to entirely reconfigure our assumptions about the past. His next observation is about what happens when we reread a literary text. The second time we already have the “future” moments in the story constituted, and this sheds new light onto what we are reading as we go along in the second reading. This allows for an alternate phenomenal construction of the story’s world. It is not necessarily more accurate or more complete; it is rather just the same thing from a different set of perspectives.]

In every text there is a potential time-sequence which the reader must inevitably realize, as it is impossible to absorb even a short text in a single moment. Thus the reading process always involves viewing the text through a perspective that is continually on the move, linking up the different phases, and so constructing what we have called the virtual dimension. This dimension, of course, varies all the time we are reading. However, when we have finished the text, and read it again, clearly our extra knowledge will result in a different time- | sequence; we shall tend to establish connections by referring to our awareness of what is to come, and so certain aspects of the text will assume a significance we did not attach to them on a first reading, while others will recede into the background. It is a common enough experience for a person to say that on a second reading he noticed things he had missed when he read the book for the first time, but this is scarcely surprising in view of the fact that the second time he is looking at the text through a different perspective. The time-sequence that he realized on his first reading cannot possibly be repeated on a second reading and this unrepeatability is bound to result in modifications of his reading experience. This is not to say that the second reading is “truer” than the first – they are, quite simply, different: the reader establishes the virtual dimension of the text by realizing a new time-sequence. Thus even on repeated viewings a text allows and, indeed, induces innovative reading.
(285-286)

 

At every moment of our lives, our consciousness phenomenally constitutes our world by means of these three inter-woven layers of temporal modification, and as well, they are employed when reading a literary text. This means that we can learn about how our normal time-constituting consciousness works by examining it at work when reading literary texts. [It seems the next idea is this: for example, just as the text is an open totality that is continually under “revision” by the reader, so too is the real world of our experience constantly under continual modification as we learn new details about it. To return to a specific example, the ‘Before the Law’ parable, with the Priest’s commentary, raises to our explicit awareness  how this continual modification of our understanding of the world is always at work. Then Iser quotes from Merleau-Ponty. There are two parts to the quote, as much text is elliptically removed. The first part’s meaning is obvious given Iser’s argumentation. The world is an open totality, and our phenomenal synthesis of it is inexhaustible. The second point I am not certain about.  It possibly means that if we take a phenomenological approach to knowledge, this means that we take none of our knowledge as a priori but rather whatever we learn is by means of introspective analysis and thus it is based on our experience. And perhaps the next idea then is, when we take this phenomenological approach, we have removed the basis for any such analysis to produce definitive knowledge, but rather it is always open to further revision, with each subsequent phenomenological analysis of our experience. The quotation will be given below, for your own interpretation. The following point I am also not grasping well, but it might be the following. The way we interpret a literary text has a lot to do with what is going on inside us. So for example, we might project our own beliefs and attitudes into the story’s construction. For instance, if we are cynical people, we might interpret a certain character’s seemingly innocent actions as really being self-serving or even malevolent. Thus, our interpretation of a text can tell us just much about ourselves as about the story world, and so our interpretations can serve as a kind of mirror to our own inner worlds. Iser says this is a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we are exploring our own true inner world. But we are doing so in our efforts to realize a fictional reality that is entirely different from our own “real” reality. (Note, they are both realities for Iser I think because they are both constituted through the world-creating process of time-constituting consciousness.) Iser’s final point seems to be that the literary work will affect the reader more to the extent that she fills in more of the gaps creatively. And, the more the reader fills in the gaps, the more the reader needs to go outside their own world of experience. (I do not know why that is, however. I would think that to fill in the gaps, one would need to draw from one’s own experiences to provide that material. The basic idea might be that the more you fill in the gaps, the more you must invent an alternate world on your own that is independent from your own, since it is fictional.) ]

In whatever way, and under whatever circumstances, the reader may link the different phases of the text together, it will always be the process of anticipation and retrospection that leads to the formation of the virtual dimension, which in turn transforms the text into an experience for the reader. The way in which this experience comes about through a process of continual modification is closely akin to the way in which we gather experience in life. And thus the “reality” of the reading experience can illuminate basic patterns of real experience:

We have the experience of a world, not understood as a system of relations which wholly determine each event, but as an open totality the synthesis of which is inexhaustible. ... From the moment that experience – that is, the opening on to our de facto world-is recognized as the beginning of knowledge, there is no longer any way of distinguishing a level of a priori truths and one of factual ones, what the world must necessarily be and what it actually is.9

The manner in which the reader experiences the text will reflect his own disposition, and in this respect the literary text acts as a kind of mirror; but at the same time, the reality which this process helps to create is one that will be different from his own (since, normally, we tend to be bored by texts that present us with things we already know perfectly well ourselves). Thus we have the apparently paradoxical situation in which the reader is forced to reveal aspects of himself in | order to experience a reality which is different from his own. The impact this reality makes on him will depend largely on the extent to which he himself actively provides the unwritten part of the text, and yet in supplying all the missing links, he must think in terms of experiences different from his own; indeed, it is only by leaving behind the familiar world of his own experience that the reader can truly participate in the adventure the literary text offers him.
(286-287)

[Ft9: M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (New York, 1962), pp. 219, 221.]

 

 

 

Main work cited:

Wolfgang Iser. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” New Literary History 3 (1972): 279-99.

 

Also cited:

Don Rosa. “The Making of ‘Hearts of the Yukon’ .” In The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Companion. Los Angeles, California: BOOM KIDS! / Boom Entertainment, 2010.

 

 

Image credits:

Don Rosa. “His Majesty McDuck.” In Uncle Scrooge Adventures #14. Montezuma, Prescott, Arizona: Gladstone Publishing.

 

Don Rosa (Art & Story), Todd Klein (Lettering & Titles), and Susan Daigle-Leach (Color). The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Volume 1. Copyright 2009 Walt Disney Company (some text and commentary of this edition are  copyright Don Rosa). Los Angeles, California: BOOM KIDS! / Boom Entertainment, 2009.

 

 

Don Rosa (Art & Story), Todd Klein (Lettering & Titles), and Susan Daigle-Leach (Color). The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Volume 2. © 2010 Walt Disney Company (some text commentary of this edition is © Don Rosa). Los Angeles, California: BOOM KIDS! / Boom Entertainment, 2010.

 

Don Rosa (Art & Story), Todd Klein, John Clark, and Bill Pearson (Lettering & Titles), and Susan Daigle-Leach and Scott Rockwell (Color). The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Companion. © 2010 Walt Disney Company (some text commentary of this edition is © Don Rosa). Los Angeles, California: BOOM KIDS! / Boom Entertainment, 2010.

23 Jan 2016

Iser (§1) “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” part I, summary

 

by Corry Shores

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Wolfgang Iser

 

“The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”

 

I

 

 

Brief summary:
For any literary work, we have two poles of its reality: the text and the reader. But the literary work itself cannot exist exclusively on either pole. If it is just text without reader, it is meaningless scribbles. But if it is reader without text, then there is nothing in the reader’s mind that is substantially related to that work to begin with. The real literary work, then, is found at the intersection between reader and text, when the reader engages with the text and brings it to life through their imaginative and interpretative activities. This elusive existence of the literary work means that it has a virtual reality rather than a substantial actuality. This also means that readers are not passive receivers of the literary work. Rather, they play an artistic, creative role as well, since they must fill in gaps and add senses, significances, and meanings to the work wherever they are not explicitly given. Writers, then, are often aware of the vital role the reader plays in the creation of the literary work, and so they intentionally leave much out of the text so that the reader may contribute more productively to the work’s realization.

 

 

Summary

 

We will take a phenomenological approach to textual analysis, which means that we are interested in both {a} the text itself, and equally as much we are interested in {b} the conscious activity involved when reading a text. Iser distinguishes, then, two facets or poles to this mode of analysis: {1} the artistic, that is, the artist’s text itself, and {2} the aesthetic, which is the reader’s realization and concretization of that text (279). The text by itself is not the artistic work. What is needed as well is for the reader to bring that literary art work into existence. There is somehow a point of contact between reader and text, and since it is not fully a part of either end, it has a “virtual” location and perhaps a “virtual” existence.

The phenomenological theory of art lays full stress on the idea that, in considering a literary work, one must take into account not only the actual text but also, and in equal measure, the actions involved in responding to that text. Thus Roman Ingarden confronts the structure of the literary text with the ways in which it can be konkretisiert (realized).1 The text as such offers different “schematised views” through which the subject matter of the work can come to light, but the actual bringing to light is an action of Konkretisation. If this is so, then the literary work has two poles, which we might call the artistic and the aesthetic: the artistic refers to the text created by the author, and the aesthetic to the realization accomplished by the reader. From this polarity it follows that the literary work cannot be completely identical with the text, or with the realization of the text, but in fact must lie halfway between the two. The work is more than the text, for the text only takes on life when it is realized, and furthermore the realization is by no means independent of the individual disposition of the reader – though this in turn is acted upon by the different patterns of the text. The convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence, and this convergence can never be precisely pinpointed, but must always remain virtual, as it is not to be identified either with the reality of the text or with the individual disposition of the reader.
(279)
[Ft1: Cf. Roman Ingarden, Vom Erkennen des literarischen Kunstwerks (Tübingen, 1968), pp. 49 ff.]
[Ft2: For a detailed discussion of this term see Roman Ingarden, Das literarische Kunstwerk (Tübingen, 196o), pp. 270 ff.]

 

[This idea of the literary work’s virtuality is not yet clear to me. I suppose the idea is that the text is actual, and the reader is actual, but the literary work is not found in either actuality, and in a sense, can never be located in any actuality. So perhaps it is virtual in at least two senses. {1} It is virtual in the sense that it has some mode of reality even before it comes into active existence through the convergence of text and reader. We would say that as long as the reader of Hamlet is alive, that person exists. And as long as the text is recorded in some medium, be it print, electronic, or even in the memory of actors, then the text exists. But the real work of literary art that is Hamlet only exists when the reader brings the text to life through their active engagement with it. Yet, we would not say that the living Hamlet loses all reality whenever it is not being read. Rather, it retains a virtual existence that can be awakened at any time. {2} It is also virtual in the sense that even when it is being actively realized, its plane of existence is not found in any obvious world, like the world of text or the inner world of the reader. We sort of know that it is there without knowing where it is. Also, I am not sure if and why we cannot say that it exists in the reader’s inner world. But perhaps this is because its other pole (its textuality) is necessarily exterior  to the reader, since the reader must encounter it, make sense of it, relate herself to it, and so on.] [I am not certain, but perhaps the next idea is the following. Because the literary work is always a virtuality, in the above two senses we mentioned, that means it is only realized when it is being actively processed interpretatively by the reader. It is not something that is immediately grasped in a finalized state. Rather, with each reading, new shades of meaning are brought out. Iser elaborates this notion with this beautiful concept of Laurence Stern’s that the writer both offers fertile material to the reader, but also gives the reader much freedom in determining how to shape and develop that material. In other words, the artistic activity of literature is not limited to the contribution of the writer, but includes as well that of the reader.]

It is the virtuality of the work that gives rise to its dynamic nature, and this in turn is the precondition for the effects that the work calls forth. As the reader uses the various perspectives offered him by the text in order to relate the patterns and the “schematised views” to one another, he sets the work in motion, and this very process results ultimately in the awakening of responses within himself. Thus, reading causes the literary work to unfold its inherently dynamic character. That this is no new discovery is apparent from references made even in the early days of the novel. Laurence Sterne remarks in Tristram Shandy: “... no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good-breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself. For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.”3 Sterne’s conception of a literary text is that it is something like an arena in which reader and author participate in a game of the imagination. If the reader were given the whole story, and there were nothing left for him to do, then his imagination would never enter the field, the result would be the boredom which inevitably arises when everything is laid out cut and dried before us. A literary text must therefore be conceived in such a way that it will engage the reader’s imagination in the task of working things out for himself, for reading is only a pleasure when it is active and creative. In this process of creativity, the text may either not go far enough, or may go too far, so we may say that boredom and overstrain form the boundaries beyond which the reader will leave the field of play.
(280)
[Ft3: Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (London, 1956), II, chap. II, 79.]


Iser then quotes from Virginia Woolf, who in her study of Jane Austin was remarking on how “the ‘unwritten’ part of a text stimulates the reader’s creative participation” (280). [The idea seems to be that the writer leaves a lot unwritten, so that the reader can “write” it themselves in their minds as they read. But these contributions on the reader’s part can then influence the way the rest of the text is read. So even seemingly trivial scenes can take on great significance, if the reader contributes sense to them that is not explicitly given in the text.]

The extent to which the “unwritten” part of a text stimulates the reader's creative participation is brought out by an observation of Virginia Woolf's in her study of Jane Austen: “Jane Austen is thus a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there. What she offers is, apparently, a trifle, yet is composed of something that expands in the reader’s mind and endows with the most enduring form of life scenes which are outwardly trivial. Always the stress is laid upon character.... The turns and twists of the dialogue keep us on the tenterhooks of suspense. Our attention is half upon the present moment, half upon the future.... Here, indeed, in this unfinished and in the main inferior story, are all the elements of Jane Austen’s greatness.”4 The unwritten aspects of apparently trivial scenes, and the unspoken dialogue | within the “turns and twists,” not only draw the reader into the action, but also lead him to shade in the many outlines suggested by the given situations, so that these take on a reality of their own. But as the reader’s imagination animates these “outlines,” they in turn will influence the effect of the written part of the text. Thus begins a whole dynamic process: the written text imposes certain limits on its unwritten implications in order to prevent these from becoming too blurred and hazy, but at the same time these implications, worked out by the reader’s imagination, set the given situation against a background which endows it with far greater significance than it might have seemed to possess on its own. In this way, trivial scenes suddenly take on the shape of an “enduring form of life.” What constitutes this form is never named, let alone explained, in the text, although in fact it is the end product of the interaction between text and reader.
(280-281)
[Ft4: Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, First Series (London, 1957), p. 174.]

 

 

 

Wolfgang Iser. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” New Literary History 3 (1972): 279-99.

 

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Iser’s “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” entry directory

 

by Corry Shores

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Wolfgang Iser. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” New Literary History 3 (1972): 279-99.

Wolfgang Iser, entry directory

 

by Corry Shores

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Iser (Wolfgang)

[Image obtained gratefully from NIAS]

 

 

“The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”

 

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Image credits:
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
http://www.nias.knaw.nl/fellows/year-group-1973-74/iser-w

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16 Jan 2016

Groensteen (7.5) Comics and Narration, “Accentuation and Polyrhythm”

 

by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. Boldface and bracketed commentary are my own.]


 

Thierry Groensteen

Comics and Narration

Chapter 7:
The Rhythm of Comics

7.5
Accentuation and Polyrhythm
 
 
Brief summary:
When the panelization is regularized into a waffle-iron grid, it bears with it inherently a metricized rhythmic cadence. However, the rhythm of such regularized formats can be given accentuations and polyrhythmic layers. Different elements and patterns can be established such that certain parts stand out more rhythmically, and also, at one and the same time various rhythmic patterns can be experienced as flowing together simultaneously. Regularized panelizations can also complicate rhythm in other ways. Chris Ware’s layouts for example can be anti-rhythmic in one sense, because they slow time’s motion down to a crawl. But in another sense, they create other sorts of rhythms in the way we experience that slowed time.
 
 
Summary

[We previously examined some instances of structural irregularities in comics panelizations, and we observed the rhythmic influences they have. For example, speeds of timing may accelerate or decelerate, or syncopations or metrical cadences may suddenly and temporarily appear.] The previous examples we examined demonstrated how rhythm can be accentuated. Because these cases presented anomalous instances of structural regularity within a context of irregularity, “differentiation and accentuation are synonymous” in these instances (151). [So in other words, when the structure is irregular, rhythmic accentuation for the most part comes from local differences. As such, they perhaps lend themselves more to intensive differences like instantaneous variations in speed or amplitude of the beat. However, when the panel structure is regularized, more than just local variations can be implemented, since larger structural organizations can be developed. It seems perhaps Groensteen with his examples is saying that when you have structural regularities, you can establish a context or environment on the basis of which you can “code” or “program in” other variables with rhythmic effects.]
The localized occurrences noted above are specific examples of the accentuation of rhythm (in this context, differentiation and accentuation are synonymous). There now emerges a general rule, which is as follows. In the case of a comic with the smoothest possible beat (regular layout, reiteration of very similar iconic content, standard distribution of balloons over the page), many resources are available for accentuation, whether at the level of the stanza or at that of a single panel. Some of these resources come under the heading of the spatio-topical system, and have, for that reason, been signaled in System 1: a panel can be accentuated by its siting (especially when it occupies the central or the final position), by its shape or by its size. Others concern the content represented. These are: a break in the scale of images, in the continuity of a phased process (cinematic or optical progressivity), or in the chromatic range (through contrast in color). The final parameter that can be brought into play is, as we have seen, the amount of information offered to the reader, and, notably, the amount of text. These different kinds of accentuation can be used at the same time. The more of them the author brings together to make an image or a stanza stand out, the more remarkable the cumulative effect of scansion will be.
(153)
 
[Groensteen next discuss the polyrhythms in La Cage. I unfortunately do not have a copy available at the moment, so I will just have to quote.]

In my essay on La Cage [The Cage] written in 2002, I referred to the superimposition of a number of structuring rhythmic procedures in Martin Vaughn James’s famous experimental “visual novel”:

Like any published work that is inherently visual, La Cage consists of a sequence of double pages that are immediately perceived as a succession of diptychs. To this basic binary beat are added, in this instance, all kinds of rhythmic and even melodic effects. The reader only has to leaf through the book to make them visible: there are sequences which, like musical phrases, are sustained over several diptychs and are then suddenly broken off as another tune comes in; effects of rhyme, repetition, always with [. . .] some variation; alternation between large images split into two halves set out on facing pages and diptychs that juxtapose unrelated, self-sufficient images; and, finally, variations in the framing of the image that affect two of its parameters: size and position on the page. All these procedures, working together, stamp a particular rhythm onto Vaughn James’s visual novel, a rhythm made up of accelerations and pauses, moments of intensity and glissandos. The text intervenes on two levels. Considered in its simple physical materiality, it is, variously, absent altogether, reduced to a single line or expanded into a block of type, and may be positioned above or below the image. Considered as reading matter, it holds the attention for longer or shorter periods.44
{Footnote 44 from page 193: “La Construction de La Cage” [The Construction of La Cage], afterword to Martin Vaughn-James, La Cage (Brussels: Les Impressions nouvelles, new edition 2010) p. XLVI.}

[Below is an image that illustrates partially some of these ideas. I obtained it very gratefully from Emmanuel Espinasse's Pinterest page.]

 photo Vaughn-James. La Cage.page from_zpsii46kgac.jpg

Groensteen cites other examples of polyrhythm from Alan Moore’s, Dave Gibbons’, and John Higgins’ Watchmen. On some pages, there are three layers of rhythm simultaneously at work. This results from an interchange between different scenes, which is like parallel editing in film. {1} There is the grouping of threes of each horizontal strip on the page. {2} There is the interchanging swing between both scenes. And {3} there is the constant repetition of text in each panel, that is not entirely homogeneous, since in one scene it is narration boxing and in another speech ballooning, and also in each box there will be different amounts of text.

The interweaving of different rhythms is also in evidence on certain remarkable pages of Watchmen, characterized by the alternation of two narrative sequences that intersect within the waffle-iron grid, overlaying onto the page an X-shape, which is reinforced by the distinctions in color tone between the two sequences in question.45 Moore’s skill lies in not disrupting the continuity of the text—the same dialogue goes on throughout the entire page, sometimes “on” (the speakers are shown: we will call this scene A) and sometimes “off” (the “image track” is uncoupled from the “soundtrack” and we see another scene in another place: scene B). The result is that on top of the cadence set up by the waffle-iron grid, the A-B-A/B-A-B/A-B-A structure actually interweaves several different rhythms: the ternary rhythm of the strip, the binary rhythm of the A-B alternation, and the rhythm of the text, at once regular in that it sits atop two series of images with no interruption—and irregular, in view of the varying length of the lines of dialogue.
(154)
[Footnote 45 from page 193: See, for example, the second, third, and fourth pages of Chapter 1, the first pages of Chapter 2, or pages 9 and 10 of Chapter 3.]

[Below is an instance where the pattern is obvious, but the panels of the bottom strip are combined.]

 photo Moore. Watchmen.1.p3_zpsn1v5vwmp.jpg

[Below are two consecutive pages where the grid remains intact.]

 photo Moore. Watchmen.2.p1_zps3cdcuwzl.jpg

 photo Moore. Watchmen.2.p2_zpspo3gpiwi.jpg

[Perhaps the pattern is more apparent when we place them side-by-side.]

 photo Moore. Watchmen.2.p1-2.Horiz_zpscsaborpf.jpg

[Below is the ternary rhythm of the three-paneled strips.]

 photo Moore. Watchmen.2.p1.DemoA.2._zpsnybagvax.jpg

[All while these triplets have their rhythmic effect, at the same time we experience the binary interchanging movement between scenes.]

 photo Moore. Watchmen.2.p1.DemoB._zpsklnzdhfg.jpg

[And still at the same time there is the constant beat of the text insertions, marking each panel with another tick.]

 photo Moore. Watchmen.2.p1.DemoC._zpszuwvahak.jpg 
 
Comics  have a basic discontinuity built into them [resulting from the fact that they are segmented into panels.] Comics artists have many ways to create possibilities of rhythm that the reader actualizes through her interpretive reading decisions.
The discontinuity that is the basis of the language of comics ensures that rhythm is a central element of its discursive resources. It has been important to establish the following points here: that the rhythm peculiar to each work is enriched by multiple effects and strategies, that this rhythm is unceasingly | modulated throughout the work as a function of multiple parameters, that almost all the great authors are past masters at interweaving rhythms (emphatic and muted), and, finally, that readers have a role to play in the actualization of these combined processes—it is they who must interpret the score.
(155)

In fact, Chris Ware is the one who made this analogy of the reader interpreting the comic as if it were like a music score. Groensteen then notes the very slow pacing we often find in Ware’s work. It in a sense is a sort of anti-rhythm, since it seems to slow time down.

 

The latter expression originates from Chris Ware (“When you read a comic strip, it’s like reading a musical score. It’s up to us as readers to bring the music from the score alive”);46 and if there is one artist who has established , if not rhythm, then at least duration, as one of the essential dimensions of his own poetic art, it is without doubt the author of Jimmy Corrigan, whom we meet again here. When his work first began to attract attention, readers were all struck by his management of time, characterized by the stretching out of certain sequences, sometimes to an almost unbearable extent, further exacerbated by the nature of the sequences in question, which were marked by the immobility and indecisiveness of their protagonists, by non-communication and aphasia. As Jacques Samson writes, in Ware’s work, “time moves sluggishly, and displays its sluggishness.”47

[Footnote 46 on page 193: Unpublished comment, during round table with author.]
[Footnote 47 on page 193: Jacques Samson et Benoît Peeters, Chris Ware, la bande dessinée réinventée [Chris Ware, Comic Art Reinvented] (Brussels, Les Impressions nouvelles, 2010), p. 150. See also Georgiana Banita, “Chris Ware and the Pursuit of Slowness,” David M. Ball and Martha B. Kuhlman (eds), The Comics of Chris Ware (Jackson, U P of Mississippi, 2010) pp. 177–90.]

 

[Below is a panel from a Jimmy Corrigan issue of Acme Novelty Library. As you can see, Ware is a genius.]

 photo Ware. Acme Novelty 14.p70_zpsiuxpzqnj.jpg

 

Groensteen explains that there is an anti-rhythmic element in Ware’s design, because much in the imagery is made to be experienced as if things were stagnating. Nonetheless, there are still rhythms in the way we experience the distended temporality of the events, and they can be modulated by such factors as panel sizes and their sequentialized contents.

 
The visual translation of the miring of the action—which amounts to an antirhythm— is achieved by a constant recourse to seriality effects: avoiding shotcounter shot sequences and pointless changes in framing, Ware cultivates instead the systematic, reiterating the same angles of vision over and over again. To which is added a very personal conception of layout, analyzed above (p. 49) as “a combination of quadrangular blocks.” In fact, the eye perceives at first glance that these blocks are not all equivalent: one large image means a pause, another series of small images represents the unfolding of a process, or is a figurative expression of emphasis. To the different formats configured by the artist there correspond different rhythms of apprehending the material, time spans mentally calculated by the reader. Ware likes to quote Goethe’s definition of architecture as “frozen music.” This metaphor applies perfectly to the architecture of his comics pages.
 

Thus even when time seems to stand still, there are yet other structural factors which give those pauses rhythm of a sort.

 
The question of rhythm is, nonetheless, all-pervasive in his work. It is transmitted, as we have seen, by the insistent repetition of certain iconic contents, but also by the mathematical principles on which the compartmentalizing of the space on the page is based. To the “nested regularities” that we have observed (the fact that the panels correspond to three or four standard formats, perfect multiples of each other), there correspond different beats, so that the page (and the narrative as a whole) is made up of interwoven rhythms—even when, within this rhythmic mechanism, the author manages to suspend the flow of time.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Thierry Groensteen. Comics and Narration. Translated by Ann Miller. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. Originally published as Système de la bande dessinée 2. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2011.

 

 

 

Image credits:

 

 

Martin Vaughn-James. La Cage. Copyright Les Impression nouvelles. Obtained gratefully from Emmanuel Espinasse's Pinterest page:
https://www.pinterest.com/phenixdu16000/sp4ce-k0mix/

Alan Moore (Writer), Dave Gibbons (Illustrator/Letterer), & John Higgins (Colorist). Watchmen #1. September 1986. Copyright DC Comics, 1986.

 

 

Alan Moore (Writer), Dave Gibbons (Illustrator/Letterer), & John Higgins (Colorist). Watchmen #2. October 1986. Copyright DC Comics, 1986.

 

 

Chris Ware. Acme Novelty Library #14. Copyright 2000 Chris Ware. Fantagraphics Books.

 


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15 Jan 2016

Groensteen (7.4) Comics and Narration, “The Awareness of Rhythm”

by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. Boldface and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete. Sorry about that.]


 

Thierry Groensteen

Comics and Narration

Chapter 7:
The Rhythm of Comics

7.4
The Awareness of Rhythm
 
 
Brief summary:
When a comics layout pattern is regularized to form a “waffle-iron” grid, it is formally obvious what about it creates its metrically homogenous, steady rhythm or “cadence.” However, when the panels’ shapes are not regularized, then the rhythm can be unsteady and more complicated. This means that brief instances of regularized sequences stand out very strongly from the irregular context. Nonetheless, even in irregular patterns there are still rhythmic factors like tempo alterations, syncopation, and so on. These other variables draw our attention to the subjective contribution to comics rhythm. The comics artist presents certain rhythmic possibilities for the reader to explore, and the reader, on the basis of her disposition and free decisions, actualizes any of those rhythmic possibilities.
 
 
Summary

[We previously discussed the steady cadence rhythm of the “waffle-iron” grid layout of comics.] Although many comics have the waflle-iron grid pattern, many others do not, and they thus do not have the steady cadence of the regularized panel formats (148).
 
[Groensteen then makes a very important phenomenological observation. He previously showed how when the regular pattern is established, the exceptional instances where that pattern is broken stand out and change the rhythmic feel of the comics. Eisner made a similar point, too. But if the pattern is irregular, then it is the moments of regularity that stand out. This supports a more basic phenomenological point, which is that phenomenality can be based on difference.]
When irregularity becomes the rule, it is localized incidences of regularity that stand out. The reader notices immediately if a series of three or four consecutive panels have identically shaped frames in common, particularly if the shape is unusual, either longer or wider than the norm for the other images. These panels work together: they constitute a stanza.
(148)
 
Groensteen gives an example from Jason’s Je vais te montrer quelque chose. Most of the work has irregular panelization, except for a dialogue scene [shown below, taken from Groensteen’s book.]
 photo Jason. Je vais te montrer quelque chose.p.18_zps5xney3ez.jpg

This central group of eight panels forms a “stanza”. [When we read it, there is an interesting change of rhytmic gears that occurs.]

Eight panels is more than enough for a cadence to emerge, and here it is reinforced by two of the seriality effects that we have already noted: repetition (each of the eight panels is a close-up on a face, whereas in the other images the characters are framed at half or full length) and an effect of periodic alternation (Sandra and Alex speak in turn; moreover, they are represented in three-quarter profile along symmetrical axes).
(149)

 

In the surrounding wordless panels, we do not have a good way to gauge how much time passed. But we can discern that the eight rapid frames have the temporality of the displayed verbal exchange (149). [Recall again Eisner’s explanation that we use clues in the panel’s content to discern how much time is passing within and between panels.]

 

[Groensteen’s next point is interesting. We first must distinguish the duration depicted and the duration it takes to read the panels. When there is dialogue, it might take us longer to read the panels than it takes for the fictional duration to occur. In other words, a panel sequence might imply that for example 10 seconds have passed, but it took us 20 seconds to read those panels. On the other hand, a silent panel might imply that 20 seconds have passed, but it takes us just three seconds to read it. Groensteen thinks that there is an inverse relation between depicted and experienced duration.]

It is of course important to make a distinction between the time of the action and the time of reading, which have an inverse relationship to each other. Our eight panels containing dialogue recount a very short scene, but, because they include text, they possibly take a little longer to read than the wordless images that occur before and after them, even though the latter represent more story time.
(149)

 

Groensteen then makes another interesting phenomenological observation. The time intervals in comics can be depicted in the story, but the rhythmic feel of the comics comes more from the temporal properties of the experiences of the comics. This comes, he says, in stages. First we see the overall panel structure on the page, which gives us a feel for whether or not the rhythm is regular or not. Then as we continue reading the panels, we might experience variations in the pacing. [I may not be getting the next point. It seems that Groensteen then says that the rhythm is not merely found in the reader’s experience but rather in the interplay between the actual temporal features of the experience and those of the fictional temporality that are decoded from visual clues.]

Rhythm, in comic art, is never a matter of time intervals that can be measured but of time intervals that are felt, through an impression that is built up in stages. This begins with an instant visual fix on the configuration of the multiframe, which will be perceived as regular or not, composed of a greater or smaller number of panels and featuring or not featuring seriality effects (all factors that can be taken in at first glance). It is then activated by the reading process, which is subject to variation in speed, now faster, now slower.42 We must refrain, here again, from an over-mechanistic or simplistic description, because not only does the reader’s awareness of rhythm depend on his/her own alertness and sensitivity, it is also something other than a simple matter of correlation with the time of the action or the time of the reading. It is, precisely, forged in the gap, the tension between these two dimensions: the reader’s engagement with what is being | recounted, and, correspondingly, the decoding of a greater or lesser amount of visual and verbal information.
(149-151, skipping 150, which entirely displays the Jason page)
[Footnote 42 of page 193: When Baetens and Lefèvre write: “The rhythm of narration of a comic can be measured by a comparison between the probable duration of the action and the number of panels covering it in the album” (Pour une lecture moderne, op. cit., p. 53), they are confusing rhythm with speed. Although the speed of the narration can indeed be measured by this relationship, it will by now be clear that rhythm is a considerably more complex matter.]
{From footnote 5 of this chapter, page 191: ... Jan Baetens and Pascal Lefèvre, Pour une lecture moderne de la bande dessinée [Towards a Modern Reading of Comic Art] (Brussels: CBBD, 1993) ....}

 

Groensteen will now focus more on the subjective element of how rhythm is experienced in comics. The same panels can have different rhythmic qualities depending on the dispositions and free decisions of the readers. The same silent panels for example can be studied and dwelled upon, or glanced over quickly.

The configuration of the multiframe and the density of the information are objective criteria. However, nothing is more subjective than our involvement in the fabula that is being recounted or shown, the narrative discourse that is addressed to us. It is all the more subjective for having a double motivation, emotional and aesthetic. Let us take the example of a wordless panel representing a (silent) character in close-up. Reader A will skim over it: s/he has noticed that this is a lull in the action and so (in his/her opinion) the panel is not worth tarrying over. Reader B (especially if she is a female reader?) will be moved by the expression on this mute face and will linger over it, intuiting a sentiment that arouses empathy (the importance of close-ups in shōjo mangas is well known). Reader C will be held up by his/her interest in the drawing style of the close-up: it may be striking on account of the intensity, the accuracy,—and sometimes the comic effect—of the facial expression (as in the theatre, we can speak of a powerful presence), or it may simply be worthy of admiration for its graphic virtuosity, as a particularly felicitous portrait, a face that is etched and detailed, a remarkable “phizog” (think, for example, of certain close-ups by Giraud or Goossens).
(151)

[Below is a page of shōjo manga, Ueda’s Peach Girl, which Groensteen displays earlier in this book.]

 photo Ueda. Peach Girl.p19_zpsicxsvago.jpg

[Below is a silent close-up by Giraud. I am not sure if this is the sort of close-up Groensteen has in mind, however.]

 photo Giraud. Cristal Majeur.p20.face_zpse2wqqlyk.jpg

[And below is a silent close-up by Goossens. Again, I am not sure if this is what Groensteen has in mind.] photo Goossens. Route enfer.p.13_zpsass3imcx.jpg

As we can see, then:

In the final analysis, the author proposes but the reader disposes. It is the latter who animates, identifies with, punctuates, and brings to life the story in his/ her own way. The reader therefore contributes to the rhythm of the narration, which, ultimately, coincides with the pulsating flow of the reading process.
(151)

 

Groensteen then has us consider another example, namely a page from André Juillard’s and Patrick Cothias’s Les 7 Vies de l'Épervier. Tome 7: La Marque du condor. [Below is the referenced page.]

 photo Julliard Cothias. Les 7 Vies Epervier. tome 7. Marque condor.p16_zpsbrcnc2hl.jpg[Let me quote first.]

This page is characterized by seriality effects, even if they are not as marked as in the work of Jason. The geometrical arrangement of the page, as the reader first apprehends it, however vaguely, is as follows: vertically the page is divided in two across the middle. Horizontally it is also divided in two, but the parts are of unequal size. This structure (an off-center cross shifted towards the left) dictates the rhythm of the page: one large image followed by a stanza of three horizontal images “bracketed together,” then two more classically shaped images one above the other, then again a group of three images, this time vertically elongated.
(151)

[I was a little confused, because I expected it to read that horizontally the page is divided into equal sections top and bottom, but vertically into unequal parts, as the left side is narrower.]

 photo Julliard Cothias. Les 7 Vies Epervier. tome 7. Marque condor.p16.overlay_zpsvddrdtcj.jpg

[At any rate, the point seems to be that we get three beats in each “stanza” on the right side of the page. This is similar to the Jason example, because in the context of rhythmic irregularity, there are isolated sequences with a metrical rhythm.]

 

Groensteen then says that this pattern makes the rhythm here “syncopated” (151). [The idea might be that although the stanza’s have a regular rhythm, in the context of the irregular rhythm, they perhaps seem like accentuated off-beats, but I am not sure.]

The operation of reading this part of the narrative is not regular or cadenced; it is more syncopated, as the sequence is processed in successive chunks. The | most expressive element is of course the vertical juxtaposition of these two tercets (three-panel stanzas) oriented along opposing axes.
(151-153, skipping page 152, which displays the comics page)

 

Groensteen then looks at other visual elements in the frames of this page that lend to its rhythmic feel. For example, the blue of the sky in the last three panels creates an affinity between them that lends to their being grouped as a stanza. But what about the top stanza? All other panels have just one speech balloon, but those have two, again creating a visual grouping.

Over and above the arrangement of the frames, other structuring parameters are involved in the production of rhythm, the two main ones in our example being the distribution of colors and the spacing out of speech balloons. As regards the colors, red stands out strikingly, very prominent in the first panel, and then punctuating the lower part of each half of the page. But the pale blue of the sky creates an effect of continuity among the last three images and contributes to their perception as three components of a single group. As regards the text, it is noteworthy that every panel of this page contains one speech balloon, with the exception of the three horizontal panels of the top stanza, which each contain two. There again, we have a factor that, by introducing a variation into the tempo of reading, singles out the stanza and designates it as homogeneous in its difference.
(153)

 

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Thierry Groensteen. Comics and Narration. Translated by Ann Miller. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. Originally published as Système de la bande dessinée 2. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2011.

 

 

Image credits:

 

Thierry Groensteen. Comics and Narration. [See above]

 

Jason. Je vais te montrer quelque chose. Copyright 2004 Jason and Éditions Tournon-Carabas. Here taken gratefully from p.150 of Thierry Groensteen. Comics and Narration.

 

Miwa Ueda. Peach Girl #1. Translated by Dan Papia. Copyright 2001 Mixx Entertainment / 1988 Miwa Ueda. Tokyopop.

 

Jean Giraud (artist) & Marc Bati (writer). Le cristal majeur. Copyright 1986 Dargaud.

 

Daniel Goossens. Route vers l'enfer. Copyright 1997 Goossens and Audie-Fluide Glacial.

 

André Juillard (artist) & Patrick Cothias (writer). Les 7 Vies de l'Épervier. Tome 7: La Marque du condor. Copyright 1991 Éditions Glénat.

 


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