Sunday, October 25, 2015

L.I.N.K.S. #13: Nick Sousanis' Graphic Novel on Thinking Through Images

The first comic book dissertation has been approved, and I am smitten. I dedicate this thirteenth edition of L.I.N.K.S. to this fascinating exploration of words and images.

The cover of the book that grew out of Sousanis' doctoral dissertation

Doctoral Dissertation in Graphic Novel Form by Cory Doctorow

"Columbia University awarded a doctorate in education to Nick Sousanis for Unflattening, a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature. ...It was published by Harvard University Press.

"The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge."

An excerpt from Unflattening

Book review by Harvard University Press

"Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge.

"Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points. While its vibrant, constantly morphing images occasionally serve as illustrations of text, they more often connect in nonlinear fashion to other visual references throughout the book. They become allusions, allegories, and motifs, pitting realism against abstraction and making us aware that more meets the eye than is presented on the page.

"In its graphic innovations and restless shape-shifting, Unflattening is meant to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that Sousanis calls “flatness.” Just as the two-dimensional inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s novella Flatland could not fathom the concept of “upwards,” Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend."

Seeing again, for the first time

Artist Nick Sousanis on the Power of Visuals: Comics on Learning Creativity by Blogtalk Radio

"We'll explore what happens when we bring more visual images and visual thinking -- including comics -- into teaching, learning and creativity. Our guest is comics artist and educator Nick Sousanis, who received a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, where he wrote and drew his dissertation entirely in comic book form. His dissertation has been published as the book, Unflattening."

An excerpt from Unflattening

Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis by The Paris Review

"Everything about Unflattening is odd, from its ungainly title and unfashionable subject matter (Rudolf Arnheim art theory meets Herbert Marcuse radicalism meets Scott McCloud comics boosterism) to its provenance: Nick Sousanis initially wrote and drew this full-length comics essay as his graduate-school dissertation. (He was earning his doctorate in education at Teachers College Columbia University, studying under the philosopher and social activist Maxine Greene.)

"Sousanis’s career might be considered a little odd, too. He followed up an undergraduate degree in mathematics with a brief stint as a professional tennis player, then cofounded and edited a cultural magazine in Detroit, while also working as an artist. This isn’t the typical career path for a cartoonist—though to be fair, that profession doesn’t provide many followable emblematic models in that regard. Wild enthusiasm and plunge-taking fearlessness aside, Sousanis seems like a solid citizen; while his ideas are radically utopian, their flavor is resolutely wholesome. He is reminiscent of the kind of small-town high school teacher who’s popular with students because they believe he tells the truth and is unafraid to veer away from the curriculum-assigned script."

An excerpt from Unflattening

One Giant Leap: A Review of Unflattening by Matt Finch

"Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening is a thesis-as-comic developed from the author’s doctoral dissertation for Teachers College Columbia University. Sousanis argues that images are not subordinate to words, but equal partners in the articulation of thought, and that sequential art is a vital scholarly alternative to either visual or verbal communication alone.

"Over eight chapters, Unflattening follows an anonymous, sleepwalking figure as they step out of a regimented life and take flight to explore new worlds. Sousanis draws the imagery of these worlds from TV, movies, the classical canon of art, and scientific diagrams. Unflattening embraces visual references from Paleolithic cave prints to James Bond films, and verbal ones from Bruno Latour to Wallace Stevens. The protagonist bears at one time Hermes’ sandals and at others wings of its own; it is incarnated as a Pinocchio-like puppet confounded by a centipede’s existential challenge, ‘Who are you?’, before finally being reborn as a child reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The comic’s final image is of that newborn’s eye opening to see the world as if for the first time.

"In the course of this journey, Sousanis dethrones the primacy of the word in a kind of Copernican revolution. He argues that image is not mere illustration, subordinate to words, but an equal partner and component in thinking. He explores stereoscopic vision and the principles of astronomical observation as metaphors in order to define ‘unflattening’ as ‘a simultaneous engagement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing.’ (Sousanis 2015: 32)."


1. L.I.N.K.S. is a recurring feature here on PhilosFX in which we provide links to subjects that are sure to Lure, Intrigue, Nurture, Kindle, and Stimulate readers. 

2. The APA citation for the book featured in today's edition of L.I.N.K.S. is Sousanis, N . (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

3. h/t: Prof PTJ

No comments:

Post a Comment