by Corry Shores
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[The following, except for the brief summary, is quotation from Miodrag’s text. Note: please check my transcriptions against the original text, as I probably added typos that are not found in the book.]
Comics and Language:
Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form
Discussion of Wolfgang Iser in Miodrag’s Comics and Language
Miodrag references two main ideas in Wolfgang Iser’s “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”. The first is the idea of the “intentional sentence correlatives.” These are the parts of the story world (constituted in the reader’s phenomenal consciousness) that correspond to the literary text’s sentence clauses. They are composed of an open sort of structure that invites linkages with other intentional sentence correlatives. And, sentences in literature tend to have conceptual “gaps” between them (parts left out of descriptions and accounts of events) that invite the reader to bring closure by finding their own connections between the intentional sentence correlatives. [See also section 5.2.1 of Iser’s The Act of Reading.] Likewise in comics, each panel can be said to have an intentional correlative, and the gaps between panels as well invite the reader to find their own network of coherence connections between the correlated story parts. This is a lot like Scott McCloud’s notion of the closure process that the reader contributes at the invitation of the comics gutter. [See chapter 3 of McCloud’s Understanding Comics.] Miodrag often uses the term “suturing” for this notion of creating coherence between comics panels. The other notion from Iser’s text that Miodrag references is the way the intentional sentence correlatives involve anticipation and retrospection in how they tie given parts of the story world to others that are given in the text (or are temporally located in the story) before and after that particular sentence.
The following (up to bibliography) is quotation from Miodrag’s Comics and Language:
In a direct challenge to McCloud, Robert C. Harvey examines a very different kind of “gap” in comics, between picture and caption, which the reader similarly “fills in” so that each illuminates the other, revealing their full import only through their mutual relationship (Harvey 2001). Though Harvey’s analysis provides a valuable counterpoint to McCloud’s emphasis on the “gutter” as the most – even only – pertinent gap within the comics form, by examining Simmonds’s compartmentalization of text in particular, we can see how the spaces in comics over which readers must make imaginative links are far more diverse than either of these conceptions admits.
This “filling in,” especially as described by McCloud, is no more than the comics version of the “intentional sentences correlatives” [sic? intentional sentence correlatives] that Wolfgang Iser describes in prose fiction, which “disclose subtle connections” between the “component parts” of the text that together create “the world of the work” (Iser 1980: 52). McCloud attempts to claim that comics’ “demand for active interpretation” and “participation” (McCloud 1993: | 136) is somehow unique to the form, an assertion symptomatic of the widespread urge to find some aspect of the medium entirely specific to it. Many critics are apt to follow his lead. Thierry Groensteen and Charles Hatfield, on the other hand, both acknowledge the similarity between the operations that McCloud and Iser describe, though Hatfield does so with more characteristic hyperbole, stating that comics are intrinsically more fractured and thus inherently more demanding of active participation that prose (Hatfield 2005: xiv), while admitting the two share in the general narrative principle that “no author worth his salt will ever attempt to set the whole picture before his reader’s eyes” (Iser 1980: 57). The pertinent difference between comics and prose literature is that in the former these narrative gaps are visible, physical spaces on the page over which a range of elements – segments of text, whether brief caption, extended narration, or speech bubble; individual pictures; and whole panels – are all drawn into the reader’s imaginative construction of the world of the work.
(Miodrag 66-67, bracketed insertion mine)
The collaborative “filling in gaps” between sequential panels, previously discussed primarily in relation to Iser’s notion of sentence correlatives, is in fact “an experientially rooted way of making sense of the world” (Christiansen 2000: 117). Ernst Gombrich explains that “there is no representation [that] leaves nothing to the imagination” (1952: 181): we fill in odd unheard words in conversation, overlook misprints and deduce the correct word when reading, and infer familiar images from loose or abstracted representations. The readiness with which we do so is testimony to the “importance of guided projection” (Gombrich 1952: 171) in interpreting all representational material. The process McCloud terms “closure,” then, has sundry counterparts beyond Iser’s theory (indeed, McCloud himself acknowledges this sort of guided projection informs all acts of perception, though critics citing his work tend to promote the simultaneous claim that the comics medium rests on this process “like no other” [1993: 65]). The process compares, for example, with the way we mentally group broken lines and proximate forms into continuous gestalts, and, as some critics acknowledge, with the way we suture | cinematic cuts, understanding fractured film scenes as whole narratives (Pratt 2009: 111–14, Beaty 1999: 68).
It is common to foreground the elliptical nature of comics and contrast the effort that goes into mentally linking discrete panels with the supposedly “passive” (Hatfield 2005: 33) and “effortless” (Harvey 1996: 175) viewing of motion picture frames that flow seamlessly and automatically from one to the next. However, the closely linked action of Fig. 5.1 and 5.2 here passes so smoothly that the act of mentally suturing their content becomes near-automatic, a “largely unconscious and mechanical operation” (Groensteen 2006: 10). Equally, the more jarring, imaginatively demanding cuts that can occur between comics’ panels can also be emulated cinematically. Films such as Memento (2000) or 21 Grams (2003) test the viewer with scrambled plotlines that unfold backwards to piece together the overarching story from fragments that reveal further information gradually, continually clarifying or modifying what has gone before. This operation works by the same principle as Iser’s sentence correlatives, and the visibility of the gap the reader must bridge in comics does not set the form apart from other narrative media that have recourse to similar narrative elision.
These panels finally recur intercut with the confession of the Comedian’s killer, as startling revelation that assaults the expectations the reader has built up, forcing a reassessment of everything previously read and exemplifying the interruptive process of “anticipation and retrospection” that Iser describes (1980: 54).
The network model proves a valuable one here, illuminating how comics can create bridges between non-consecutive panels that are visibly co-present on the page, and conceptually co-present with all other panels throughout the text. Some of these connections are glaringly evident, but they may be more subtle, only revealing themselves upon closer, active analysis. The extent to which these networks contribute to our understanding of the text, which examination of Watchmen and Metronome has shown can be considerable, suggests that it is the very ability of comics to violate the sequential nature of narrative that in fact distinguishes the form. The dispersed connections may mirror the sentence correlatives Iser describes, but differ in being embodied, physical repetitions.
Miodrag quotations from:
Miodrag, Hannah. Comics and Language: Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.
Miodrag’s citations (and her own quotations of others’ works) from:
Beaty, Bart. “The Search for Comics Exceptionalism.” Comics Journal, 211 (1999): 67–72.
Christiansen, Hans-Christian. “Comics and Film: A Narrative Perspective,” in Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics, ed. by Hans-Christian Christiansen and Anne Magnussen, pp. 107–21.
Gombrich, E.H. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (London: Phaidon, 1952).
Groensteen, Thierry. The System of Comics, trans. by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2006).
Harvey, Robert C. The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1996).
Harvey, Robert C. “Comedy at the Juncture of Word and Image: The Emergence of the Modern Magazine Gag Cartoon Reveals the Vital Blend,” in The Language of Comics: Word and Image, ed. by Robin Varnum and Christina Gibbons (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2001), pp. 75–96.
Hatfield, Charles. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005).
Iser, Wolfgang. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” trans. by Catherine Macksey and Richard Macksey, in Reader Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, ed. by Jane Tompkins (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980), pp. 50–69.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Kitchen Sink Press, 1993).
Pratt, Henry John. “Narrative in Comics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 67.1 (2009): 107–17.