Readings, and Related Inspirations


Synthesizing Readings

First I’d like to state that this week’s class, despite the absence of our instructor, was quite helpful and enlightening. I think my post here would be much different if it weren’t for a good head-filling review of the stuff.

Perhaps the best place to start when addressing the readings as a unit (or perhaps system of theory might be a better label) is with this:

It all begins with the photograph – the new technology that would forever alter the way humans view… well… anything. We could easily compare its invention with that of the printing press, and I believe Benjamin does (please correct me if I’m wrong), because of its affect on the potential distribution of the image.

From here, we can connect and synthesize all the messages from the theoretical readings we’ve been indulging in over the last few weeks. We can read them as signs, denoting obvious intentions, anchored in text, or free floating, no text at all. Below, I offer a working definition of my own nostalgia as it works with Space and Place as Benjamin and later Crary set it down. Each of the following seashore images holds a nostalgic connotation for me, and I never even thought of them as landscape – until now…


This is the Huntington Beach Pier. You don’t ever have to go there to know what it looks like. In fact, it’s one of the more famously viewed, famously photographed/filmed piers in SoCal. That’s probably got something to do with the Van’s Pier Classic that happens there every year:

All Credit for this Photo goes to Morgan Arnold @

I grew up here. I spent a huge portion of my early childhood underneath those beams eating Thrifty icecream and running from my older brother as he chased me with armfuls of seaweed. And you need never go there to imagine what it might have been like for me. Under the pier:

The above photos do not have cult value. They are not unique. I can take my point-and-shoot to these very locations and replicate almost the exact image. Or I can just republish someone else’s as I’ve done above. I can even cross time boundaries. I have photos of this very pier as it existed in the 1980’s, when there was an ice cream shop on the end. Not the End Cafe that was only there a few years. Not the Ruby’s that’s there now. A storm came when I was very small and swept away the end of the pier. The ice cream shop had a giant pink ice cream cone on the top. I watched that old ice cream cone float away. And people took pictures of that too. I would put them here if I were at my mother’s house, where the old photos are kept in an old box, in a closet no one ever opens. And I could scan those old photos up and share them with someone in… Zimbabwe, or Kuwait, or Laos. As long as that person has a computer.

Text in – black box – image out — Ones and Zeros

Vilem Flusser tells us that we are nearing (or arguably in, now) a post-historic age in which “magic will be meant to manipulate people.” (303). And indeed it does. Moving pictures (television, movies, internet videos) use static images juxtaposed in sequence and feed into my vision at 24 frames per second (ideally) in order to show me dazzling images – sell me items – get me hooked on a music video – a beautiful scene – a nostalgic bit of landscape, dialogue… anything I can imagine that I want to see – or very much do not want to see… it’s all possible.

This is Valerie Robin:

She dances with the Joffrey Ballet Company. Sometimes people contact me to ask whether or not I am she. I am not. Clearly. But in the black box, I could be. Information in – image out.

On the internet, I can look up Valerie Robin and find a lot of photos of her:

In both images, Valerie Robin is arguably presented to us as an object. She is after all, both a woman and a dancer. She is both a work of art as a dancer, and presented as art when photographed or filmed. She is even presented in an ad – as Berger tells us the progression of art becomes… eventually:

All we need in order to make a connection with “literary art” as Berger calls it, is a little Degas.

A painting like this which is normally housed at the Musee D’Orsay under special lighting because it’s a pastel, not an oil as one might expect, ceases to be as special as it was before the advent of the photograph. I can buy a print of it with the click of a mouse. It’s called The Star should you be so inclined.

And because it has been reproduced, in a print I can hold in my hand and inside this black box you call a computer, guys like Berger can now theorize about the presentation of the dancer. Mitchell can ask what it wants.

And what does it want? Does The Star want to be presented like an object? Does it want to be under low lights, trapped in Paris with other pastels, silent in a black case? Does it want to be a reflection of the objectified nude? Does it want to be the obvious inspiration for commercial art/adverts to come?

If Degas isn’t an inspiration for Little Ballerina, I don’t know what is. Maybe nothing.

And in all of this – we still have our audience to think about. According to Crary, perception can be delineated as a conscious process. He cites physicist Andre-Marie Ampere (accents not included) as saying that “any perception always blends with a preceding or remember perception” (Crary 11). And whether we’re talking afterimage, or a remake of an old image into a new, the audience is a part of it, as long as they can consciously participate in the viewing process. And as long as we have a historical consciousness.

The black box – the television, the cinema, the interwebs – all of these mediums make us potentially aware that we are viewers. We even often think in cinematic terms. All of us have wished we could clean our house or do our homework in a montage (and if you haven’t, you will now), but it’s not possible. If you’ve ever played a First Person Shooter game for a lengthy period of time, you’ve pictured yourself viewing the ‘real’ world through a scope. If you’ve watched enough action films, you’ve pictured yourself scaling buildings, jumping impossible fences, or taking out people that get in the elevator to take it up only one floor (though this last one may just be me). In this way, we are all at once a spectator, a subject of study as viewers, and a part of the machine of production (Crary 20).

All made possible by the reproducible, portable photograph and all its offspring.

Thank you, Camera Obscura, for making it all possible.


Initial Term Paper Exploration

The following is a bunch of thoughts for where I think I want my final paper to go for this course. I would appreciate any feedback you all may have, positive or negative. I would also appreciate essays/books you think I may need to read, or other comics you think I should maybe check out (unless it’s Jimmy Corrigan. I’m not going to touch that one).


I will be looking at the structure of the comic novel and how it functions in relation to a particular narrative. The specific structural entity I will be focusing on is what is called the gutter – the space between comic panels which requires the reader/viewer to create meaning in order to continue the continuity of the narration from panel to panel. The gutter is unique to the comic medium and requires more audience production than any other medium.

Parts of the paper:

1. Definition of terms necessary for reading about comics

2. Literary Review – much of the literature concerning comics is repetitive. A lot of people are saying the same thing over and over in different ways, using different examples to illustrate the same points.

  • I will be adding to the debate by taking this repetition to the next level. According to Charles Hatfield’s 2010 article “Indiscipline, or, The Condition of Comic Studies,” the author complains that we are still presenting comics “as if the field were almost brand-new” (5), even though comics have been a part of mainstream entertainment for over 80 years (Superman debuted in 1938).
  • Instead of repeating what everyone else has said, I plan to continue the argument in a new way, which I will illustrate below

3. The Literature Debate – Much of the conversation I mentioned above is about whether or not comics should, or will ever be considered ‘literature’. I will argue that comics are not, and should not, be considered literature based on claims made by other scholars. I plan to propose that comics get their own unique space in textual discourse, and that comics scholars leave the debate over literature to text-only novels.

4. Major Argument/How My Paper will be Different:

  • Instead of illustrating how panels, frames, gutters, etc work in comics as a genre, I will argue that different narratives can, and do, direct the way in which gutters can be utilized. I will argue that particular narratives can construct meanings from gutters that cannot be understood without also understanding the narrative where they are applied.
  • I will focus on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and how it can illustrate more ways for gutters to create meaning (using semiotic terms for clarity), than what Scott McCloud introduces in his 1994 book, Understanding Comics. Simultaneously, I will argue that, while comics should not be lumped in with literature, they can absolutely be considered ‘literary’, though we should use discretion when applying this term, as the entire medium is not worthy of this merit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the comics medium, let me include a few pages here to illustrate what I will be showing in the paper.

Out of Preludes and Noctures - Issue Title: 24 Hours

This particular page is from the first volume of Sandman, and takes place in a diner: an everyday establishment that exists on this plane, in this reality. The characters are unaware that something supernatural is about to take place in this very diner. They are unaware of their placement in the narrative so far. Thus, the artists, Mike Dringenburg and Sam Keith, have decided to create this page as any traditional comic would be set up. The panels are rather standard size, square, and the gutters are white and empty.

Also from Preludes & Nocturnes

The page below, another page out of Volume One, is a completely different set-up. The panels are not standardly square, and the gutters, while literally there, are red. In the narrative, the main character, the Sandman, is remembering a moment that happens earlier in the narrative, but from his point of view (the narrative perspective shifts often in this book). There are several important techniques in play here: The panels are curved to mimic the fact that the Sandman is trapped in a convex dome in the basement of a Nazi cult building. The red is arguably mirroring the inner part of the eye, doubly a mirror for the shape of his prison and the shape of the eye. The fact that the speech bubble is black is also important to the character in that whenever the Sandman speaks, his speech bubble is formatted this way. While the speech bubbles are not necessarily important to my argument, the space the Sandman occupies while narrating this memory sequence is important to the presentation of the page. It is both signifying the importance of space, time, and story arch in the narrative, and is allowing the reader to create meaning about the character of the Sandman and his importance within the larger narrative.

This last one is another of many ways in which the gutter is manipulated.

From Preludes & NocturesHere the narrative is not as important as in the others, though this is not always the case for this type of page layout. It is the case here because this is the first page in an issue and so just providing set-up. On the page, we see the outside of an asylum. This facade doubles as a full-page illustration and a backdrop for the other four panels. Here we can see the outside of the asylum and the inside, from various angles. In this way, the reader is given the setting, and the setting is not removed as the temporal shift in narration occurs. This is unique to comics, though not as widely used in more traditional comics. Because of the nature of the medium, comics are able to present more than one space at a time to the reader, and the reader can view more than one time at a time. As the eye moves from the top panel to the bottom panel, it creates continuity in the story, but is constantly reminded that the outside of the asylum remains unchanged as time moves on inside. Manipulating the page this way, the created mood is arguably creepier, and the asylum setting remains still and dark in all of the places except where the action in the panels takes place.

The above three pages are here for illustrative purposes so you can see what I’m working toward. I plan to use Barthes to incorporate semiotic terminology in order to clarify the ideas as much as possible to as broad an audience as possible. I will also rely on an article by Jason Dittmer from 2010 called “Comic Book Visualities: A Methodical Manifesto on Geography Montage and Narration” because he talks quite a lot about how the page works to probe “both sense of place and role of place in defining literary characters” (223). I also plan on reading Theirry Groensteen’s book, which I have, but haven’t dug into yet. He also discusses gutters in some depth.

I would appreciate any feedback, particularly on clarity of presentation here.

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What Does a Picture Want From the New Audience?

According to Jonathan Crary’s article “Techniques of the Observer”, published in 1988, since the invention of the photograph, the audience is now part of the production of seeing. This involves 3 modes: “a body at once a spectator, a subject of empirical research and observation, and an element of machine production” (20). Audience also, apparently, and according to W.J. Thomas Mitchell’s book What Do Pictures Want?, is an assigner of being to an image. Let me introduce here the key words that I have chosen:

fetishism: ‘the subjectivity of objects’ (30)

I am struggling with how to provide an example of fetishism – perhaps the feeling we get when we watch a film, or hear a song, and it seems like it was made ‘just for us’, even though it was not made even with my individuality in mind.

animism: ‘the personhood of things’ (30)

Animism is easy; I’ve been assigning personhood to inanimate objects since I was old enough to hold a doll – my first was a little monkey that sucked its thumb. We had nightly conversations about… thumb sucking, I imagine.

What I would like to focus on for this post is what does perception entail when we’re thinking about the new audience, when ‘new audience’ consists of those viewers who have lived with photographs as a part of seeing for most or all of their lives. What does perception entail and when do we actively perceive? Below is a picture of the Brewster’s lenticular stereoscope.

Since I found the illustration in our text to be somewhat confusing, I found this image to supplement it, which made it much more simple, especially since my family owns a Holmes stereoscope, which is just a different version of pretty-much the same thing. With Brewster’s stereoscope, the viewer is not given the option of awareness of how exactly the stereoscope works, unlike with the Holmes stereoscope. But as the audience has been increasingly let in on the means of production of images, our notions of perception and viewing have changed.

I’ve been thinking about it in terms of the words “peep show”.

The Oxford English dictionary gives this early example for the use of ‘peep show’:

“1822    J. H. Reynolds Press ii. 58   Whilst Brewster each one’s optic nerves delights By his famed peep-show and its varying sights.”

As you can see, ‘peep show’ did not originally have a sexual connotation. It was merely the act of looking into a box for an image, or ‘peeping’ into an object that may or may not have been a Brewster’s stereoscope. It is only later that a ‘peep show’ began to be thought of in only sexual terms:

“1999    F. Wynne tr. M. Houellebecq Atomised (2001) 184   He started visiting sex shops and peepshows which only served to aggravate his suffering.”

We no longer think about viewing images with the confines of a box, like the original stereoscope was. The idea of ‘peeping’ then becomes something we would only do in secret. As in ‘a peeping Tom’, who looks in the window of a girl to see her undressing.

But as Crary explains, modernization means that the spectator is no longer locked into a fixed, or static location in terms of the object being viewed (22). We are no longer looking into a box. This can mean several things:

  1. We can imagine ourselves in front of a screen (much like the one you are looking at now) and think about all the angles from which we can view images. We are no longer limited to looking at an image through the direction of binoculars.
  2. We now have access to cameras of all sorts that allow us to literally produce the images ourselves, if we should choose. Below is a picture of my very first bought with what I thought of as ‘real creation’.

In this way, modern man (or woman) can now be as much, or as little a part of viewing as he or she pleases. Rarely do I actualize the idea that with the advent of reproduction, I can now ‘see’ a thing without ever going to where that thing exists. Conversely, I can now bring people to places they have never been. Now I, or you, can even examine all sides of an object, or a place, with video, or panoramic photo, or that thing that google maps does where you can rotate on a street (notice how my phrase locates you as on the street in actuality. I thought about revising that, but am choosing not to for obvious reasons). I love ‘that thing’. Crary is absolutely correct in saying that “no other form of representation in the nineteenth century had so conflated the real with the optical, the object with its image” (29), as photography did.

Now, because we are so image saturated, it is likely that Mitchell’s question, posed seventeen years after Crary’s article, is a necessary question. “What do pictures want?” Without going too thoroughly into this topic because of space and the time it takes to read all these posts, I would like to state my total objection to Mitchell’s confidence in answering the question “what do women want?” in relation to pictures. Here, Mitchell succeeds in placing women on the same plane as the object, without ever discussing the problem with this comparison, or the problem with whittling down ‘what women want’ into one notch-hole that is ‘power’. While it is likely that the ‘things this woman wants’ could be argued into this notch of ‘power of some sort’, I do not readily see how needs like ‘acceptance’ or ‘lack of abuse’ or ‘safety and/or constancy’ fit into the power structure the way I am reading Mitchell.

I could go on and on about that – but this last bit was sort of just a tack-on to the post. I needed to say it. Do with my post what you will.